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Technology / technology

A Real Thinking Cap

Using specifically trained motor imaginations learned in single dimensional cursor tasks, subjects control the three-dimensional movement of a virtual helicopter. Raw EEG is temporally and spatially filtered to produce individualized control signal components. These components are weighted and digitized in a subject specific manner and output to influence control in the virtual world.(Courtesy PLoS ONE and University of Minnesota)

photo of Maggie Fox
October 26, 2011

People can control virtual helicopters using thought alone, and equipment as simple as a cap that collects brain waves, U.S. researchers reported Wednesday.

They trained three women to control the “helicopter”, directing it through virtual rings on a computer screen. They wore caps that measured their brain signals via electroencephalogram, or EEG, the team reported in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE.

The research is another step toward allowing paralyzed patients and others to control a computer or even a robot using thoughts alone.

 

“The subjects flew through rings continuously, acquiring as many as 11 consecutive rings within a five-minute period. In total, the study group successfully acquired over 85 percent of presented targets,” Dr. Bin He of the University of Minnesota and colleagues wrote. “Subjects were trained to accurately fly the helicopter through three-dimensional space.”

The experiment shows it is possible to fit people with prosthetic devices that do not require implants of any sort. Other work using monkeys requires the animals to have electrodes implanted into the brain.

Earlier this month researchers trying to find ways to make robots move by brain power alone reported the first two-way system, in which monkeys can not only make a virtual hand move, but can get feedback that their brain “feels” as a real object.

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