By Glenn Pew, Contributing Editor, Video Editor
A Chinese team of researchers has developed a system for controlling a quadcopter using brain signals and has suggested that further development could create a system that allows disabled pilots to act as pilot in command of their own aircraft. And there could be other applications. The system works by using an electroencephalography (EEG) headset that picks up brain activity and relays the data via Bluetooth to a laptop. The computer translates the information into flight commands and sends the signals wirelessly to the quadcopter. The team's headset is commercially available and limited in its abilities so, for now, commands are limited, creative, and not especially intuitive. Though not specifically addressed, the concept might sooner bring additional functionality to able-bodied pilots, as well.
A "pilot" can control the quadcopter by thinking "right," which, according to NewScientist.com, is the command used to move the vehicle forward. The other commands are similarly creative. The command "Push" makes it climb and pilots can make the vehicle rotate clockwise by thinking "left." Thinking "left hard" translates into a command for takeoff. Blinking four times and clenching teeth directs the vehicle to take pictures with an onboard camera and descend, respectively. In its present incarnation, the vehicle sends a continuous video stream back to the laptop from its onboard camera. (Video at right.) In that configuration its purpose, as promoted by its designers, is to allow disabled users to view the world with a new perspective and from different vantage points that would otherwise be difficult or impossible for them to access. But over the long term, the Chinese team of researchers said they hope that continued research may lead to a world in which "disabled people can use brain [control] to drive a plane in which they are seated, and go anywhere they want to go."