Meet the new breed of toy copter -- no remote control required.
The New Scientist points to a video posted by researchers at Zheijiang University in Hangzhou, China, which shows a quadcopter being flown using nothing but thoughts and wishes. That's right: On this flight, your brain is your co-pilot. If you want the copter to turn right, you simply think, "Turn right." If you want it to turn left, you think "turn left," and so on.
Here's video of the thought-controlled helicopter in action, along with a brief explanation of how it (incredibly) works:
The system was actually hacked together using parts that anyone can purchase: An EEG headset from Emotiv (a company that specializes in neuro-transmitting headsets), a Parrot AR Drone helicopter, a laptop and some nifty software cooked up by the Zheijiang researchers. If you live in Pittsburgh, good news: The researchers will be bringing their gear over to the Ubicomp Conference, which will be held in the Steel City from September 5-8.
Thought-controlled tech, while not yet ubiquitous, has certainly crept its way into the spotlight over the past couple years, thanks to some eye-popping, mind-bending proofs of concept. Most notably, mind-controlled board games, for example, are currently available for you to buy; some speculate that video game consoles that you control with your thoughts will be the future of gaming. In April 2011, meanwhile, a team of scientists allowed the cursor on a computer screen to be moved using only one's thoughts.
(Actually, we may be in the middle of a revolution, in general, in the way we input and control our devices, transitioning from the mouse cursor to touchscreens, especially with the upcoming release of the touch-centric Windows 8 in October; and, too, don't forget that there are companies hard at work on software and hardware that will allow you to control your machines with both your eyes and with gestures).
This is the first time, however, we've seen a quad-copter controlled using one's thoughts, an invention that has as much potential as a diversion as it does a healing or mechanism. You'll note that a couple of the example users in the video are in wheelchairs, and the New Scientist quotes the researchers' paper as concluding that "[m]aybe one day in the future, disabled people can use brain [control] to drive a plane in which they are seated, and go anywhere they want to go."
That future may be far off, but with baby steps like these being made in the present, it's not hard to imagine how this kind of hands-free flight control might work some day.