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Flying a helicopter with your brain

Whoever said children are our future must have been talking about the students from Hawaii Prep Academy.

In the session "Future Tech: Amazing Student Tech Projects," teacher Bill Wiecking led a group of six Upper School students who showed off their amazing projects that will go over the heads of most adults. Projects ranged from a home-brew radio telescope to a High Dynamic Range Virtual Reality tour of the academy to the long-term effects of death metal on your brain.

While they were all very fascinating and impressive, the easiest, and perhaps most fun to explain, was a quad-rotor helicopter that you can fly with your brain.

The project was so fun that is also kicked off the “Rapid Fire” session on the first day of Macworld/iWorld. Developed by senior Duncan Michael, the quad-rotor drone is flown with an emotive headset, which is basically a Bluetooth EEG.

Michael had to “train” the drone by using a program that maps certain emotive outputs to controls on the plane. Just like if you were to plug an Xbox controller into your computer and map which button controls the mouse click. But this program creates computer commands based on the brainwaves the headset picks up.

Michael said you can map any “thought” to any command. For example, one may thing of the word “cloud” to make it rise, or picture a rock to make it sink. For him, Michael just thinks of the drone rising and sinking to get the desired effect.

The drone controller has to stay focused or there might be some unintended consequences. Wiecking told a story that when Michael was training the helicopter, one of his fellow students played a song. When Michael heard that song again, the drone preformed the same movements it did when he first heard it.

Unfortunately, Michael had to show off his mind flying skills in a computer simulation, in case he lost concentration and crashed the drone. But his virtual mind-flying skills were equally impressive.

Though the demonstration was fun, there are some practical uses, especially for the Bluetooth headset. Wiecking said the students have used them in all sorts of other experiments such as figuring out if textbooks or eBooks are more engaging, or even the effectiveness of a teacher like Wiecking himself.

Wiecking said he hopes that this brain mapping will be used in education to evaluate how individual students respond to different teaching styles. This will then help teachers tailor lessons to engage students in the best way possible.

For more of Allvoices' coverage of Macworld/iWorld 2013, the Ultimate iFan Event, check out