Review: Researchers Test First Brain Controlled Drone

Scientists at the University of Minnesota have designed and tested the world's first noninvasive, brain-controlled helicopter in a breakthrough that could one day allow people who are paralyzed to operate wheelchairs, robotic arms or electronics using only their minds. The study is described in the Journal of Neural Engineering.

The project was carried out by Bin He, whose lab has been working on brain-computer interfaces for more than 10 years. To fly the drone, a commercially available Parrot AR.Drone 2.0, the pilot simply needs to imagine making a fist.

A cap with 64 electrode sensors picks up the pilot's brainwaves and directs them through a computer, which wirelessly transmits them to the drone. To fly left, the pilot imagines making a fist with his left hand, he imagines making a fist with his right hand. Imagining making a fist with both hands flies the helicopter up.

Before flying, the average pilot needs to train for about 10 hours, when the pilot is actually flying the drone. He says that merely thinking about making a fist causes the brain to react in a similar way to when a person actually makes a fist, making the technology potentially useful for people who are paralyzed.

He said he wanted to use a helicopter because it is inherently more difficult to control than an object on a flat surface. In order for the technology to be useful for people in the future, they have to be able to effortlessly perform complex movements.