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Outliers: If you think you can fly … a robot

By Modern Healthcare
Posted: June 15, 2013 - 12:01 am ET

Sure, almost anyone can have a robot these days. But can you control yours with your mind? And make it fly?

A study suggests that mere humans may be able to engage in a little telekinesis after all—and fly robots by sheer will. And Outliers thought drones were something to get freaked out about.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota's College of Science and Engineering have developed a noninvasive system that's as effective at reading the brain's signals as an implanted device.

In the study, published in the Journal of Neural Engineering, subjects wore a 64-electrode cap that worked as an EEG machine to record electrical activity in the brain's motor cortex.

They were asked to imagine moving their right hand, left hand or both hands together—thoughts that triggered neurons to fire in the motor cortex. The EEG cap recorded those signals and sent them over Wi-Fi to the quadcopter, which was then instructed to turn right or left or lift or fall.

Subjects faced away from the quadcopter but could track its flight on a screen that relayed images from an onboard camera. After several training sessions, they were able to fly the quadcopter through two rings suspended from the ceiling. A group of subjects using a keyboard to fly the robot served as the control group.

The coolness factor aside, the researchers said the device has the potential to help patients suffering from paralysis or neurodegenerative diseases.

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