Oct 7 - Computer scientists at Zhejiang University in China have developed a way to fly a drone with the power of their thoughts. The team says thye technology will eventually allow people with disabilities to operate machines and live more independent lives. Ben Gruber has more.
Yu Yipeng is controlling this quadcopter with his mind. A headset fitted with neural sensors detects the electrical signals produced by his thoughts and sends them to a laptop computer which processes them into commands that control the drone. (SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) (English Translation) YU YIPENG, DOCTORAL STUDENT, HANGZHOU UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "Our system here is operated by human brain power. Brain signals picked up from the headset on my scalp which detects from brain waves. Through this headset, the brain signals are collected and sent off. Through a Bluetooth, they are sent to laptop computer. The laptop will then process these signals. After they're processed, it can distinguish them from one another, for instance, if you think "right" or "left." But according to Yu it's a tricky business... For now, right and left commands do not necessarily translate into right and left. Thinking "right" propels the copter forward, "left" sends it clockwise. Clenching your teeth makes the copter descend, and blinking your eyes four times directs the drone to take a picture. Professor Gang Pan says that while the neural headset is finely tuned to detect thought, the software needs refining to more accurately translate the signals into actionable commands. (SOUNDBITE (Mandarin) (English Translation) PROFESSOR GANG PAN, ZHEJIANG UNIVERSITY, QUADCOPTER PROJECT SUPERVISOR, SAYING: "If you want to use this thing, the hardest part is that it processes signals very quickly....you have to figure out if the meaning of this static is good or bad, and that relies on the computer's analysis." Graduate student Hua Weidong, says it may look like a toy, but the drone represents research with a very serious purpose. (SOUNDBITE (Mandarin) (English Translation) HUA WEIDONG, STUDENT, ZHEJIANG UNIVERSITY: "In the future, those who might really benefit from this are disabled persons. It might be able to help them with tasks they are not capable of, for instance, taking care of others. Later, the average person might be able to use a brain-controlled interface to control a lot of things." The team says that perfecting the technology will take many more years of research. But with their drone, they've already demonstrated that the concept of mind over matter has already taken flight.