Mind-Controlled Virtual Helicopters Could Aid Prosthetics
Volunteers guide a virtual helicopter through floating rings with only their minds.
CREDIT: PLoS One
A new brain-computer interface allows people to precisely control a virtual helicopter's movements with their mind and without the need for surgical implants.
"It was assumed that noninvasive brain-control interfaces cannot accomplish complicated tasks," said researcher Bin He, a biomedical engineer at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
The new noninvasive system for piloting vehicles requires users to wear only a cap on their heads. In experiments, researchers had three volunteers guide a computer-animated helicopter on a screen through randomly positioned rings in a three-dimensional virtual space modeled after the University of Minnesota's Northrop Mall.
Each participant wore a cap to scan mental activity in particular, brain waves called sensorimotor rhythms, which are linked with imagining of physical activity. They imagined moving both hands to move the helicopter forward, no movement to go backward, left or right hands to rotate left or right, and up or down by imagining moving their tongue or feet.
The volunteers learned how to move the virtual copters quickly and accurately and to avoid collisions simply by thinking about where they wanted to craft to go. After three to 11 short training sessions, they flew the helicopters through hoops 85 percent of the time, gaining as many as 11 rings within a 5-minute period.
In addition to helping patients control prosthetic limbs, "applications include video game industry and even defense-related applications," He told InnovationNewsDaily.
The researchers are now experimenting with volunteers to control "real, not virtual, flying objects using brain waves," He said. "Also, we plan to study controlling robot arms."
The scientists detailed their findings online today (Oct. 26) in the journal PLoS ONE.
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