Controlling flying robots with your mind
June 6th, 2013
03:43 PM ET

Controlling flying robots with your mind

By Heather Kelly, CNN

A graduate student wearing a skull cap covered in wires sits perfectly still and thinks about making a fist with his right hand.

Nearby, a small quadcopter - a flying drone with four rotors - turns right. He imagines making a fist with his left hand and the robotic flying copter goes left. After a thought about clenching both hands, it lifts higher into the air.

He is controlling the device with his mind.

The system is part of a new research project that reads the brain's electrical activity and translates certain thoughts into commands for the unmanned aerial vehicle. It's called a brain-computer interface, and someday it could have important uses for people who are paralyzed.

"We envision that they’ll use this technology to control wheelchairs, artificial limbs or other devices," said University of Minnesota engineering professor Bin He in a post announcing the project.

This graduate student wears a special skull cap that allows him to manipulate the flying robot with his mind.

Here's how it works: Imagining specific movements without actually doing them produces electric currents in the motor cortex. The interface itself isn't new, but the researchers used brain imaging scans to find out exactly which imagined movements activated which neurons.

Once they mapped out the various thoughts and associated signals, they used them to control a helicopter simulation on a computer. Next, they moved on to real flying devices.

There are no implants or invasive brain tweaks needed for subject to control the copter with their brain. The technology is called electroencephalography (EEG). The skull cap uses 64 electrodes to detect these currents from a subject's brain as they think about associated actions, then translates that data into instructions and transmits them to the quadcopter over Wi-Fi.

In the test, pilots weren't allowed to look at the quadcopter while they controlled it, only a screen showing the view from a small camera mounted on the front of the flying vehicle. After a few hours of training, the subjects could move the quadcopters with precision, even  guiding them through hoops suspended from the ceiling.

Flying is just the start for this technology, He said.

"It may even help patients with conditions like autism or Alzheimer’s disease or help stroke victims recover," he said. "We’re now studying some stroke patients to see if it’ll help rewire brain circuits to bypass damaged areas."

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Filed under: Future • Innovation • Robots • Science • Tech
soundoff (38 Responses)
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  2. In home Personal Training

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    April 17, 2014 at 7:39 am | Reply
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    June 18, 2013 at 6:08 pm | Reply
  5. Melissa Burrell

    The night before 911; 'tired of again and again waking up thinking that I wanted to kill myself, I decided instead to use my mind's ability to kill: I fell asleep with my mind attacking the huge cross inside Church of The Advent of Christ The King: I awoke; 911, to World Trade Tower' news and thought I was responsible for it's fall. @burrell_melissa

    June 15, 2013 at 4:59 pm | Reply
  6. Melissa Burrell

    The night before 911; 'tired of again and again waking up thinking that I wanted to kill myself, I decided instead to use my mind's ability to kill: I fell asleep with my mind attacking the huge cross inside Church of The Advent of Christ The King: I awoke; 911, to World Trade Tower' news and thought I was responsible for it's fall.

    June 15, 2013 at 4:22 pm | Reply
  7. allenwoll

    Nothing unexpected here - Chemists have been doing it for centuries.

    June 10, 2013 at 3:08 pm | Reply
  8. Johnna

    CNN controlled your mind enough to make comments !!!!

    June 10, 2013 at 1:45 pm | Reply
  9. Soleilmavis

    Our minds can remotely control machines, and electromagnetic waves can remotely control our minds too.
    Mind control technologies are weapons which use drugs, electronic microchip implants, nanotechnologies, microwaves and /or electromagnetic waves to subvert an individual's sense of control over their own thinking, behavior, emotions or decision making by attacking the brain and nervous system.
    I had collected many reported articles which introduced 'mind control technologies'. The listing of these articles would not mislead readers; it was a short cut for readers to learn what mind control technologies were.

    Stories about Soleilmavis Liu

    The Fact and evidence of abuses and tortures of mind control technologies:
    I was controlled by remote Voice to Skull technologies and remote electromagnetic Mind Control technologies, and I was brought inside US Embassy in Hong Kong
    ( )

    Soleilmavis case summary of mind control abuses and tortures

    June 10, 2013 at 9:23 am | Reply
    • Someguy

      great... dont forget your tinfoil hat.

      June 11, 2013 at 9:00 am | Reply
  10. greg

    Today "Controlling flying robots with your mind". Tomorrow "Controlling your mind with flying robots".

    June 9, 2013 at 10:23 am | Reply
  11. Protaneum

    It's true that it's incredible technology. I just see it – and the technologies it spawns – being used for a lot more military applications than civilian...

    June 8, 2013 at 11:08 pm | Reply
  12. Charles Manson

    I've been controlling robots with my mind for years.

    June 8, 2013 at 9:31 pm | Reply
  13. Saikha

    "We envision that they’ll use this technology to control wheelchairs, artificial limbs or other devices," said University of Minnesota engineering professor Bin He in a post announcing the project'
    --but before that, it would be interesting to solve this toys energy problem. Otherwise it will be waste of time and money

    June 8, 2013 at 4:43 pm | Reply
  14. cebundy

    Awesome! There are so many applications for this! Flying drones would be a breeze. 😉

    June 7, 2013 at 8:05 pm | Reply
  15. Bob

    IIt would have been much more interesting to find out about robots controlling people's minds, instead of people's minds controlling robots.

    June 7, 2013 at 6:12 pm | Reply
    • josie brooks


      June 11, 2013 at 4:17 pm | Reply
  16. Olivia Pope-Friedman

    Well then. I guess I don't look like a mad scientist anymore.
    But what's with all those leads? Guess they've not made it to the next step in streamlining and refining their equipment.

    EEG technology is as old as I am. And I'm not young. It's always been a matter of designing the right human-computer interface for the neurofeedback. However, all those leads can very easily be consolidated. try narrowing down the different aspects of the neurons themselves, not just the signals and a whole other world will open up. Why am I telling this? Because I'm a poor inventor and will not likely be ale to complete development due to lack of funding and lack of a continually working prototype. Besides, many other inventions and ideas were stolen from me. It's not right but when does a poor man have a voice in america" By the way. encasing it reduces sensitivity on contacts but I can help if anyone is serious about further R&D where EEG is concerned.

    But when you tell someone you're designing a device that senses emotions much like I'm presently doing for the past 3 years... No one could make sense of it until I mentioned the Polygraph machine.

    Guess I'd better work harder on obtaining Intellectual Property Rights, and not get comfortable with merely a provisional
    patent 🙂

    Thanks Guys.
    Will use this link right along with my elevator pitch 🙂

    Have you checked out the game called Play Attention? It too has been around for ages.

    Here are some links you might enjoy'

    And many many more.

    The invention is called MediSense that I'm nearing completion of. Applied for provisional already
    Anyone wants to join in visit this website and contact me 🙂

    Or watch report on CNN at this link;


    June 7, 2013 at 6:10 pm | Reply
  17. Krandal

    I can control women with my mind.

    June 7, 2013 at 4:18 pm | Reply
    • Theo

      If that where true you would have better things to do then post on cnn

      June 7, 2013 at 4:47 pm | Reply
  18. travis

    I dont think this 'technology' is real.. you can control those things with an Iphone from the other room.. Saying he can control it with his mind is like saying mind reading and mind control are real.. theres just no way.

    June 7, 2013 at 3:39 pm | Reply
    • Theo

      Your not the brightest light on the tree are you ?

      June 7, 2013 at 4:47 pm | Reply
    • Olivia Pope-Friedman

      Hi Travis:

      I know it seems impossible yet I stumbled across this ability totally by accident. Look at the links in my post. If you're still not convinced, I don;t know what to tell you sir.

      Or you could check out the polygraph test. It's very similar in nature in that it can detect the emotion of lying. Well, not in a practical sense. More so a drastic change in emotions. Which inadvertently causes other biological changes such as sweating, rapid heart beat, and so on.

      I hope this helps yet I do understand your skepticism Travis.

      Free your mind!

      June 7, 2013 at 6:16 pm | Reply
  19. Michael

    The Force is strong with this one ...

    June 7, 2013 at 11:06 am | Reply
  20. nap mitty

    You ain't seen nothin' yet...

    June 7, 2013 at 7:06 am | Reply
  21. john

    really incredible

    June 6, 2013 at 8:31 pm | Reply
  22. Rodger

    Mind controls finger, finger controls robot.
    Mind controls robot.
    This is like designing a biro for zero grav when a pencil works just fine. Just for the spinoff.

    June 6, 2013 at 8:01 pm | Reply
    • P. Piper

      Mind controls finger.
      Mind controls thumb.
      Mind controls monkey
      drumming on drum.

      June 6, 2013 at 10:55 pm | Reply
    • Olivia Pope-Friedman

      Mind controls finger, finger controls robot. I really like your mind, it is definitely beautiful!
      There was a movie where the real person stayed at home and the robot went to work for it.
      Then the robot returned home to recharge for the next day of work.

      Sounds good to me. Then we can work on such things as world peace.

      June 7, 2013 at 6:18 pm | Reply
  23. jack sparks

    seems like a waste of time

    June 6, 2013 at 7:33 pm | Reply
    • sts0364

      Why do you think its a waste of time?

      June 7, 2013 at 9:49 am | Reply
    • Michael

      If you were a quadriplegic, this would by no means be a waste of time. Just because YOU may never need this technology doesn't mean that someone in your family won't ... then, perhaps, you'll have a change of heart. But you probably think that the Voyager missions were a waste of time, too, eh, Hoser?

      June 7, 2013 at 11:09 am | Reply
  24. ScottCA

    So what does the drone do when he thinks about what he and his girlfriend were doing last night?

    June 6, 2013 at 5:48 pm | Reply
    • Joe

      Sure...but what if he's gay?

      June 6, 2013 at 7:27 pm | Reply
  25. P. Piper

    Why is no one commenting on this? It's amazing!

    The facts are this;

    Jesus taked about the evils of robots in the Bible and they make God very angry because Obama is going to use them to force your family into a FEMA camp so you can mine gold for his intergalactic spaceship. Liberals and Conservatives! The IRS stole your babies!


    June 6, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Reply
    • Jimi


      June 6, 2013 at 6:37 pm | Reply
    • Wallace

      This comment made me laugh out loud! However, these breakthroughs are great....soon I will be able to do up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, control, start all without using my thumbs.

      June 6, 2013 at 7:04 pm | Reply
  26. Ian

    That is incredible.

    June 6, 2013 at 5:21 pm | Reply

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