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Subjects Move Virtual Chopper with Thoughts

Subjects using a new software package were able to control the movement of a virtual helicopter through an obstacle course using their thoughts alone. Larry Greenemeier reports

For years scientists have been developing ways for people to control objects using only brainwaves. Researchers use EEG to measure electrical activity along a person's scalp. These electrical signals can move a computer cursor, play video games and perform other two-dimensional tasks.

Now a team of University of Minnesota engineers has upped the ante with software that lets people use EEG to move a computerized helicopter through virtual rings on a 3-D obstacle course.

To test the software, researchers had three subjects wear caps laden with EEG sensors and hooked up to a computer. The subjects moved the virtual helicopter forward by imagining their arms moving forward. When they imagined no movement, the helicopter moved backwards. Imagining the movement of their left or right hands caused the helicopter to rotate in either direction. Thinking about the movement of their tongue or feet raised or lowered the chopper. Subjects were able to get their helicopter through the rings with 85 percent accuracy. The work appears in the journal Public Library of Science ONE. [Alexander Doud et al., "Continuous Three-Dimensional Control of a Virtual Helicopter Using a Motor Imagery Based Brain-Computer Interface"]

These kinds of systems could eventually open new doors for the disabled. Literally.

—Larry Greenemeier

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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