Scientists have developed a mind-controlled system that allows users to fly a model helicopter with just their thoughts. Researchers at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis created a brain-computer interface — a system that allows the brain to communicate directly with an external device — that lets participants control the path of a flying object, known as a quadcopter, by thinking about specific movements.

The interface requires users to wear an electro-encephalography (EEG) cap with attached electrodes that pick up signals from the brain, LiveScience reported. When participants think about a specific movement — up, down, right or left, for instance — neurons in the brain’s motor cortex produce tiny electric signals that are then sent to a computer, said Bin He, a biomedical engineer and the project’s lead scientist.

“The signal coming from his brain is being picked up by these sensors and then decoded and sent through a Wi-Fi system to control [the] flying quadcopter,” He said in a video by the US National Science Foundation.

“The computer is going to read that digital signal and do all the processing and extract out the brain signal and control [the] quadcopter,” He said. He and colleagues are testing the system on students, who first undergo 10 to 20 hours of training by using their thoughts to virtually fly an aircraft over a computer-generated model of the university’s campus.

Next, they controlled the quadcopter with their minds and tried to fly it through a real obstacle course made of balloons. The technology could be used to help people with disabilities lead more independent lives.

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