Photo courtesy of the University of Minnesota
A flying robot receives movement commands from an individual's thoughts.
Biomedical engineers at the University of Minnesota have developed new technology that allows people to move a flying robot using brain waves, a technology with potential to help those who have lost certain motor skills.
June 6, 2013
Researchers at the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering have developed a way for individuals to move a flying robot using their thoughts.
The non-invasive technology works using a skullcap that is covered with 64 electrodes and fitted to an individual’s head. The electrodes pick up on electric currents produced by neurons in the brain’s motor cortex region. The individual thinks about a movement, which activates certain neurons, triggering the electrodes on the skullcap. A computer receives the electrodes’ command via WiFi controls and signals the robot to perform the movement.
The individual can steer the robot, causing it to turn, rise, fall, and maneuver around obstacles, all through the use of thought. Below is a video featuring the technology.
Biomedical engineering professor Bin He led the research and said in a statement that he hopes this non-invasive technology will benefit patients who have lost certain motor skills due to conditions such as stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and paralysis.
Although using brain waves to power object movement isn’t new, He said the technique had previously proven to be less successful than implanting a chip in the brain. Using MRI and EEG imaging to map brain activity, He said that his team of researchers was able to uncover non-intrusive ways of harnessing brain wave power.
“If you really want to benefit a lot of people, it wouldn’t make sense to open a hole [in someone’s head] to put a chip in,” He told the Star Tribune
He began researching and working with brain-computer interface (BCI) technology about 10 years ago, according to the Minneapolis newspaper. In 2004, He’s research team successfully used the non-invasive technology to translate brain waves into moving a computer cursor. The experiment involving the flying robot marked the first time the team successfully used the technology in a real-world setting.
"I think the potential for BCI is very broad," He said in a statement. "Next, we want to apply the flying robot technology to help disabled patients interact with the world.”