It may not look like much at first, but the video you're watching represents a milestone in the field of brain-computer interfaces.
For starters, the helicopter on screen is being controlled in real time, by a test subject who has been trained to control its flight using "motor imaginations." In other words, when the subject thinks about moving forwards and backwards, ascending or descending, hovering in mid-air or turning in space, the helicopter responds in turn.
Which gets to something else that's impressive about the control you're witnessing — it's being performed in three dimensions. This level of control allows the test subject to not just move a cursor around a screen, it actually allows him to navigate a virtual aircraft through virtual rings that have been randomly placed in virtual space, the way you might in a video game.
Which brings us to the last reason this video is so impressive: the control you're witnessing is being achieved non-invasively, so the only thing required to control the virtual helicopter is an electroencephalography (EEG) cap, like the one pictured here.
The EEG cap decodes what are called sensorimotor rhythms, which are given off by the test subject's brain when he or she thinks about moving the helicopters, so there's no brain surgery or cortical electrode implantation necessary, making it more or less a videogame controller that you wear like a hat.
Put these three things together and you have a truly remarkable achievement. According to University of Minnesota's Bin He, who led the research:
This work demonstrates for the first time that one can accomplish real-time, continuous 3-dimensional control of a flying object in a virtual world from noninvasive EEG-based brain-computer interface. Such ability used to be limited in cases where invasive recordings are used, thus the work opens avenues to noninvasive bio-navigation, or neuroprosthetics.
And also simulated versions of reality. Just saying.
The research team's findings are published in the latest issue of PLoS ONE (doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0026322)