I’ve tried out the Neurosky MindWave peripheral before. It’s a headband with EEG sensors that, paired with software, let’s you control things by thinking. It’s a pretty rudimentary form of control, essentially a dial-up/dial-down function; concentrating activates the controller, losing focus stops whatever you’ve doing. In past years, I played video games with the device, with limited success.
It’s one thing trying to move an object on a screen by thinking about it. Yeah, you can do it, but it doesn’t seem like a big deal. It’s vastly more interesting (and potentially embarassing) to move a real object through space. So I couldn’t resist trying the latest gadget to use the Neurosky interface, the Puzzlebox Orbit, from a little company called Puzzlebox. The Orbit is a helicopter inside an orb (to keep it from damaging itself when it inevitably crashes). The whole thing is about the size of a basketball. It comes with a transmitter that hooks up to a mobile device, software, and a Neurosky headset; the package costs $189.
Visiting Puzzlebox at Showstoppers, an evening press event held in conjunction with the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, I put on the headset and tried to fly the helicopter. There’s definitely a sense of pressure when you’re trying to think an object into space and it’s just not moving. Finally, running through a set of mental math problems got it airborne.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.