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Flying High With Brain Waves

November 4, 2011 | Hogan Keyser
brain_controlled_interface.jpg
November 4, 2011 University of Minnesota -- A University of Minnesota research team has developed a unique brain-computer interface (BCI) that allows humans to use thoughts to control the flight of a virtual helicopter in real time. The experience takes place in three dimensions and uses electrical signals from the scalp to control the helicopter's movements.

A brain-wave based system offers individuals with nervous system diseases and spinal cord injuries the potential to improve their quality of life and to participate in society. A BCI system may also extend the performance of healthy individuals by harnessing thoughts to control multiple activities.

Nervous system diseases and injuries cost the U.S. over $500 billion annually in health care expenses and lost productivity. A noninvasive BCI system to rehabilitate these individuals could have a significant impact. The Minnesota team's investigations also address a significant problem in science: decoding brain waves to control devices. They use functional magnetic resonance imaging and brain wave recordings to map the "thought" signals formed when the brain processes information. The map helps the researchers decode the signals associated with different imagined motor tasks.

Recent attempts at noninvasive BCIs have achieved control in 2D but 3D has remained an elusive goal until now. With the help of mathematical strategies to control an object, the researchers can take advantage of the strengths of both the system and user and create more robust human machine interfaces. The research may make a significant contribution to neuroscience, rehabilitation engineering, control theory, signal processing, and imaging science.





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