One of the most coveted superhero powers is psychokinesis, or the ability to move objects without moving a muscle. In works of science fiction and fantasy, the mind has appeared often as a weapon infinitely more powerful than a sword or lightsaber — and rightly so. Its capabilities seem endless, as neuropsychologists continue to learn more and more about how, exactly, the human brain functions.
At the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering, a team of researchers have focused a study, specifically, on the ways that the human mind can be used to control other objects.
Using an electroencephalogram to record brain activity, the researchers observed five participants as they directed the motion of a flying robot with their thoughts. They programmed the robot to respond to certain messages sent to the brain’s motor cortex, which the 64 electrodes on the electroencephalogram’s cap registered and communicated to the robot via Wi-Fi.
If a participant imagined making a fist with her right hand, for example, the computer would direct the robot to turn right. Various other imagined motor activities corresponded to different directional movements, according to the research team’s programming.
While this study certainly gives a nod to the human fascination with psychokinesis, it has more serious implications. Most significantly, the UM research team’s findings suggest that individuals suffering from certain physical disabilities might be able to restore their mobility by imagining movements and experiencing the positive neuronal feedback that occurs when the robot responds.
Image courtesy of University of Minnesota