Remote-controlled model aircraft have been inspiring kids to become aeronautical engineers for as long as the technology has been around. But a new kind of RC toy might soon inspire kids everywhere to pursue a different scientific field entirely: neuroscience.
As if that news wasn't exciting enough, the technology, called Puzzlebox Orbit, could be available for pre-order before the holidays hit this year. It shouldn't cost you an arm and a leg either — just $89, including shipping.
The brain-controlled chopper works simply enough. It comes with software that can be downloaded to your mobile device, such as a tablet or smartphone, as well as with a NeuroSky MindWave Mobile EEG headset, which is the device that translates your brainwaves into commands for the chopper. Everything communicates via Bluetooth. Users can then toy with the software application to assign particular mental states to specific commands, and thus control the chopper's flight path by thinking in the appropriate way.
Estimated Orbit flight time should be around eight minutes per charge. The helicopter was also built with safety in mind (perhaps in spite of your mind!), with a protective outer sphere that prevents the rotor blades from slicing up walls, furniture or the ceiling. Since you'll be controlling it with your mind, hopefully this added protection will also help to keep you focused.
The Orbit project is also entirely open source; all the code, schematics, 3-D models, build guides and other documentation is freely available under an open-source license. Hacking guides are even provided to encourage experimentation. The helicopter is only the draw; the real aim of the project is education.
"We would really like to underline that we are producing more than just a brain-controlled helicopter," said Castellotti, to Gizmag. "The toy and concept is fun and certainly the main draw, but the true purpose lies in the open code and hacking guides. We don't want to be the holiday toy that gets played with for 10 minutes then sits forever in the corner or on a shelf. We want owners to be able to use the Orbit to experiment with biofeedback — practicing how to concentrate better or to unwind and relax with this physical and visual aid."
Since a great deal of concentration is required to pilot the Orbit, parents can also perhaps find some solace knowing that their child is in the process of reaching a zen-like state, even as the helicopter wreaks havoc and crashes into walls.
A Kickstarter campaign for the project, which has already raised about five times the original goal, is set to end on Dec. 8. At that time, Orbit systems will begin to be delivered to backers. The hope is for everything to be available for retail sales by early in 2013.
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