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Brain-controlled drone: It's just what you think

Image of person controlling drone
A person with limited mobility controls the flight of a quadcopter drone with his thoughts.YouTube / Zhejiang University

A quadcopter drone controlled by thought commands has taken to the skies at Zhejiang University in China. The prototype, called FlyingBuddy2, showcases the future of hands-free interaction that could allow people to pilot everything from remote-controlled toys to fighter jets with their brains.

To work, the pilot wears an emotiv electroencephalography (EEG) headset that interprets brain activity as commands that are routed to a laptop via Bluetooth and then to the drone over Wi-Fi. 

Think “left hard” and the drone will take off or land. “Left lightly” causes the drone to rotate; “right” flies it forward, and “push” to fly up. Clenching teeth commands the drone to fly down and blinking activates the drone’s camera to make a picture.

The researchers present the drone as a way to provide people with limited mobility new means to interact with their world. The drone could be useful, for example, to help a person in a wheelchair gain a bird's-eye view of flowers in a tree.

As showcased in the video below, the drone can also fulfill the urge to game, pitting mind control against a joystick. As expected, in the filmed battle, mind control wins.

The researchers will present their work on FlyingBuddy2 at the International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing this week in Pittsburgh.

– via Wired, Discovery News, New Scientist 

John Roach is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.