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Mind-controlled Helicopter May Lead to More Autonomy for Disabled People [VIDEO]

Jun 05, 2013 12:47 PM EDT
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Mind-controlled Helicopter
Using nothing but the power of his mind, a researcher siting in a gymnasium in Minnesota is able to operate a remote-controlled helicopter, successfully commanding the device to turn left and right, change altitude and even navigate through a series of hoops.
(Photo : YouTube Screenshot / University of Minnesota )

Using nothing but the power of his mind, a researcher siting in a gymnasium in Minnesota is able to operate a remote-controlled helicopter, successfully commanding the device to turn left and right, change altitude and even navigate through a series of hoops.

A working example of the mind-controlled helicopter is the latest achievement for a University of Minnesota team researching the possibilities of thought-powered machines and their potential to help people with disabilities function better in the world. Previous research by the same team showed success in controlling a virtual helicopter with only the mind.

"This brain-computer interface technology is all about helping people with disabilities or various neurodegenerative diseases to help them regain mobility, independence and enhance performance," said professor Bin He, lead researcher on the project.

He said he envisions the technology would be useful for wheelchairs, artificial limbs or other artificial devices.

Non-invasive technology is used to fly the helicopter, meaning anyone can operate wit without having any sort of microchip set surgically implanted or being cerebrally jacked into a machine like in the "Matrix" films. The only accessory needed by the operator is an EEG (electroencephalography) cap wired with 64 electrodes.

When the operator imagines a movement, without actually moving, specific neurons in the operator's cerebral motor cortex produce electric currents, which are detected by electrodes in the EEG cap the operator is wearing. The helicopter flies and responds to direction when the operators think about making certain motions with their bodies. For example, imagining a clenched right fist in your mind can correspond with the helicopter turning right. Imagining clenched fists in both hands can cause the helicopter to move up

Future applications of the technology are ambitious, but could drastically alter lives by restoring autonomy to people whose disabilities limit it.

"The ultimate application really is to benefit disabled patients who cannot move or patients that suffer with movement disorders," He said to BBC News.

Professor He told the BBC it was his "personal dream" to develop a technology that will use thoughts to control artificial limbs in a natural way.

"Our next goal is to control robotic arms using noninvasive brain wave signals, with the eventual goal of developing brain-computer interfaces that aid patients with disabilities or neurodegenerative disorders," professor He added in a press statement.

He and his colleagues' research is published in the Journal of Neural Engineering. 

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