It’s been the stuff of science fiction movies for some time. The hero (or villain) dons a special cap and is able to control physical objects using brain waves. Outside of science fiction I remember many years ago seeing a demonstration house in which the owner could turn lights on and off just by thinking the thought (after the user and the switch had been trained). Now there’s a thought-guided model helicopter. Professor Bin He, director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Engineering in Medicine, has written up their research in the Journal of Neural Engineering, describing how participants were able to steer a model helicopter with high accuracy.
“For the current work, five participants were selected to wear a simple “cap” that held 64 electrodes, using it to “teach” the computer the brain patterns corresponding to thoughts of movement – clenching of the left and right fist for turning left and right, clenching both fists to go up, and doing nothing to go down. Then the computer was set up to run the helicopter over wi-fi, with only the participant’s thoughts at the controls. The copter was made to reliably fly through an obstacle course in the university’s gymnasium – participants’ success rates were as high as 90% in obstacle avoidance.”
There are obvious implications in developing this further. Disabled patients might be able to steer a wheelchair by thought power. Further down the line a prosthetic limb might be moved by the thoughts of its wearer.
It’s a field I’ve long been interested in. In the golden age of science fiction many writers would assume that some of us would develop or be developed with special mental powers enabling us to communicate mentally or to move objects. I always thought that science might actually achieve similar results by way of machine-augmented action controlled by thought waves. A tiny phone inserted under the skin and controlled by thought might enable us to communicate wordlessly to someone wearing a similar device. Similarly, instead of using mental power to turn the wheels, we might use mental power to control the motor that turns the wheels. It would not actually be telepathy and telekinesis, but the results would look pretty similar.
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