Imagine being able to control a flying robot with your mind.
Sounds like a flight of fancy, but researchers at the University of Minnesota have fashioned an electrode-studded cap that records brain waves and uses them to control a "quadcopter" via wi-fi. Results of the copter's test flights were published in the June issue of the Journal of Neural Engineering.
How does it work? "It's completely noninvasive. Nobody has to have a chip implanted in their brain to pick up the neuronal activity," biomedical engineering student and one of the paper's authors, Karl LaFleur, said in a written statement.
Thinking about moving a body part makes cells in an area of the brain called the motor cortex produce tiny electrical currents. The cap sends this information to a computer, which translates it into directions for the copter. If you imagine making a fist with your right hand, the copter turns right. Imagining using both hands makes the copter go up, and imagining the hands at rest makes the copter fall.
Diagram from the study paper showing how thinking about hand movements controls the copter.
Controlling a toy copter sure looks fun, but it could have some very real applications for people who are paralyzed or have neurodegenerative diseases.
"We envision that they'll use this technology to control wheelchairs, artificial limbs or other devices," lead author of the study and biomedical engineering professor in the University's College of Science and Engineering, Bin He, said in the statement. "Our next step is to use the mapping and engineering technology we've developed to help disabled patients interact with the world.”