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"Mind Control" -- The Discovery Files

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Scientists at the University of Minnesota have designed a novel, noninvasive system that allows users to control a virtual helicopter using only their minds.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Look, Ma -- No Hands!

(Sound effect: theme music) I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Mind control is here. No, not to control a mind but to have the mind control something else, (Sound effect: helicopter sounds) a virtual helicopter in this case; in 3D space.

The system is the handiwork of a team led by scientists from the University of Minnesota. It's a brain-computer interface that's non-invasive just a cap you put on your head. It allows users to navigate the helicopter to fly through virtual rings and 85% of the time, mission: accomplished, flying by the power of the mind.

The system employs electroencephalography. Sensors inside the cap are able to read a specific brain wave called a sensorimotor rhythm. These signals are sent to the computer and once calibrated, have you flying the chopper using only your brain. You just think where you want it to go.

While thoughts of ways to use this technology for gaming might pop into your head, scientists see other applications: like using the mind to control devices that help people who've lost an ability due to injury or disease.

In scientific terms, this is the first time continuous three-dimensional control of a flying object in a virtual world has been accomplished from a non-invasive EEG-based brain-computer interface.

In not-so-scientific terms, 'where's the joystick?'

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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