Up, down, bank, take a photo! Researchers at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, have developed a quadcopter that can be controlled by thought alone. The idea is to give people with impaired motor abilities a new avenue for interaction.

Their system relies on the commercially available Emotiv electroencephalography (EEG) headset to interpret brain activity as commands for the quadcopter. Commands are relayed first by Bluetooth to a laptop, then by wireless to the hovering aircraft.

The quadcopter's range of motion is limited by the brain activity that the EEG can pick up. A user can move the flyer forward by thinking "right", fly up by thinking "push", and turn clockwise by thinking "left". Thinking "left hard" tells the quadcopter to take off from the ground. Clenched teeth and blinking both produce a brain signal that the EEG can read, commanding the flyer to descend or to take a picture using the on-board camera, respectively. By default, that camera sends a stream of video back to the laptop, and the user can capture a still of any scene they choose by blinking four times. The system is due to be presented next month at the Ubiquitous Computing Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Seeing and taking pictures from new vantage points are two applications that the researchers think will be useful for disabled users. They also suggest that the thought-controlled quadcopters could "fight" against physically controlled quadcopters, dodging, diving and pushing to force each other out of a ring.

"Maybe one day in the future, disabled people can use brain [control] to drive a plane in which they are seated, and go anywhere they want to go," the researchers imagine in the conclusion to their presentation.

Thought-Controlled Quadcopter Takes To the SkiesNew Scientist reports, explores and interprets the results of human endeavour set in the context of society and culture, providing comprehensive coverage of science and technology news.