SAN FRANCISCO—Engineers at startup Puzzlebox say they've designed a mobile-controlled toy helicopter that can lift off, fly around, and land by using only brainwaves. And while the company is looking for to broadly launch the product in time for Christmas, devices that interface via electroencephalogram (EEG) are giving designers something to cheer about.
The initial Puzzlebox design, called Orbit, consists of a radio-controlled helicopter piloted over Bluetooth by a person wearing a NeuroSky MindWave mobile device, which is an over-the counter EEG headset. A second version is expected to be available by May 2013 and will come with a pyramid-shaped base. This acts as a base for the helicopter and remote control. Multi-colored LED lights are arranged on the face of the Pyramid and are used to indicate levels of concentration, mental relaxation, and EEG signal quality.
Lining the rim are several infrared LEDs that operate the helicopter and with Android or iOS software. The setup is capable of controlling additional devices including televisions, said Steve Castellotti, founder and CEO of Puzzlebox.
From a design standpoint, Castellotti says it was necessary to completely reverse-engineer protocols from scratch for both the infrared receiver and the audio-based transmitter included with the Orbit mobile edition.
"In this way we are able to openly publish the results of our work without divulging any proprietary information," Castellotti said. "For the Puzzlebox Pyramid, we designed everything from schematics to PCB layout, including the main controller board and wiring for the front panel. The final result will be compatible with standard development tools for the Arduino platform."
The initial Puzzlebox design, Orbit (left) and the pyramid version expected to be available next year.
While the idea of moving objects with your mind (or telekinesis) seems more science fiction than science fact, the commercial success of other EEG-controlled toys such as the Mattel MindFlex and now Puzzlebox could pave the way for even more advancements in engineering designs.
Other electrical engineers working on this field include University of Utah electrical engineering professor Florian Solzbacher who has launched his own neural interface startup Blackrock Microsystems and sister company Blackrock NeuroMed.
Toy makers and do-it-yourself enthusiasts have made much of smartphones and tablet PCs these days and are using the devices to control everything from drones to car telephony.
With more than toys at stake, investments in EEG and other neurodevice interfaces are expected to rise. Venture and corporate investors funded more than $3 billion to private neurodevice companies over the past seven years, according to analysts with Research and Markets. Additionally, the market for EEG monitors should reach $1.3 billion by 2015, according to research from Global Industry Analysts.