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Thursday, June 06, 2013

Drones Are Flying Under Thought-Control


First of all, of course we can control drones with thoughts. It’s a splashy headline conjuring all sorts of fun sci-fi imagery, but drone technology and BCI (brain-computer interface) technology have been racing forward over the past several years on more or less parallel tracks. The quadcopter, the current standard-issue runabout drone, is perfectly built for control-based experiments, while the $750 Emotiv EEG "neuroheadset" is already being used to control a motorized skateboard out-of-the-box. It’s somewhat of an understatement, but, fundamentally, a thought-controlled drone is just a matter of plugging the two technologies into each other.


It’s when you get to the actual, evolution-gifted brains that the question comes in: are humans capable of thought-control in three-space?

A study out today from the University of Minnesota and published in the Journal of Neural Engineering demonstrates that at least five humans/subjects are up to the task of steering a quadcopter through some balloon hoops in a gymnasium using just thoughts. The task is conceptually simple enough, but the team didn’t know if it would work at all. “I was not sure we were even able to do it,” Professor Bin He, the study’s lead author, recalls in a phone interview from his office. “I was certain we would be able to do it in some way, but I was surprised by the excellent performance we were able to accomplish with this group of subjects.”

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