Brain-Controlled RC Helicopter

Picture of Brain-Controlled RC Helicopter
This Instructable will show you how take a Radio Controller Helicopter and modify the remote control hardware such that it can be operated by free, open source computer software and flown based on brainwave measurements of concentration and relaxation taken by consumer-grade EEG headsets.

The software used in this Instructable consists of two applications, Puzzlebox Synapse and Puzzlebox Brainstorms. The former connects to commercially available consumer-grade EEG headsets, such as the NeuroSky MindSet or Emotiv EPOC. The latter connects to the transmitter chip extracted from the RC Helicopter's remote control and issues flight commands and settings based on detections received from Puzzlebox Synapse. Software (including source code) is available for download from the project website:

Required Materials
- Radio Controlled Helicopter
- EEG headset such as the NeuroSky MindSet or Emotiv EPOC
- USB-to-Serial converter cable, capable of being set at an arbitrary baud rate
- An oscilloscope
- A logic analyzer
- Soldering Iron and Solder (optional)
- Connection cables and prototyping board (optional)
- Puzzlebox Synapse and Puzzlebox Brainstorms software

Note: Items in bold can be found in the Glossary and Link Index listed the final step of this Instructable.

Before beginning, unpack the helicopter, charge and install the batteries, and make sure everything is in good working order before beginning to examine or disassemble any individual components.

You should also familiarize yourself with the basic controls of your helicopter, including how trim settings operate and basic flying characteristics.

Note: The RC Helicopter used in this Instructable is a Blade mCX2 :

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puzzlebox (author)  HarveyH443 years ago
I honestly haven't had much trouble regards crashing or needing replacement parts, though I am really only concerned with two modes of flight - "fly forward" and hover. The trick is to manually use the remote control to get the helicopter to hover a foot or so off the ground and adjust the various trim settings until it stays in place. If the data frames are captured at that setting it is easy to make that the new hover setting. For "fly forward" its just a matter of slightly increasing the value of the bytes in the data packet which correspond to the elevator joystick.

Mainly the project is being used for educational purposes. We visit middle school science classes and educate a little about neuroscience, biology, and physics. Normally the kids are then broken up into groups and have a chance to build robots from LEGO Mindstorms, which are then driven and/or raced using the EEG headsets. Expanding to the RC Helicopters has been a means to increase the impact and keep the project evolving (see also the recent "Brain-Controlled Wheelchair" Instructable). Its not really necessary to perform complex maneuvers in the air for this purpose, and in any case we are only dealing with a single brainwave detection (Attention/Focus) so only a single degree of motion is sufficient.
Hi great work, I loved the instructable and the explanation, I was just being fairly curious in the EEG headsets, say other maneuvers or stuff was needed how would you go about it?
Would you measure different degrees of attention or focus? or measure something else? or?
Cheers was just really interested and wondering.
puzzlebox (author)  calvin_evird2 years ago
This question was (just now) partially answered in a comment above, but basically you can use "motor imagery" (imagining you are moving your right hand versus left hand versus feet) as measured along the sensorimotor cortex or taking a measurement along the visual cortex to see which of a set of flashing lights a person is looking at (called "SSVEP") to control steering. If you plug those two terms into Wikipedia they should provide a good start towards learning more!
Fantastic work your group is into. I have been very critical of our education system for years because they were so focused on subject matter that is no longer relevant and waste a lot of time that could be used to prepare students for the real life challenges. I think more applied science and math is needed with a return to functional labs in schools that teach hands on.

I was a maintenance manager in industry for over thirty years and was amazed at the resistance that education had to offering classes and training that would keep up with industry changes that were taking place day after day. Example is the replacement of relay logic systems with PLC's . Or the use of computers to keep up with complex math functions that are present in so many product process lines.

Keep up the Great work.
Yeah the Blade CP is not inherently stable the way the mCX2 is (the tradeoff being responsiveness and control).
kmpres3 years ago
Fabulous! Now, could you please write an instructible with some how-to detail so those of us with some electronics knowledge can build one of our own? I have built digitally controlled R/C transmitters in the past and would enjoy flying a simple plane or helicopter by brain control. Today, up and forward. Tomorrow, simple maneuvers and a controlled landing. How tough is it to teach yourself how to manipulate your brainwaves?
puzzlebox (author)  kmpres2 years ago
We tried to make the Instructable as detailed as we could, if you have any specific questions about the process please feel free to just ask!

Teaching yourself to control your brainwaves is actually quite simple and intuitive, at least for this application. All you have to do is focus your mind and maintain concentration. You can focus or concentrate on anything - doing math problems inside your head or naming every street and intersection between your home and school or office, that sort of thing.

If you wanted to perform more complex control there are methods to do that using Brain-Computer Interface, but they use different parts of the brain, such as the sensorimotor or visual cortex, requiring more electrodes with different placement on the head. Attention / Relaxation measurements are a great start with the equipment currently available at the consumer-grade level however.
sdobbie3 years ago
It would be good if you could actually find these consumer headsets.
puzzlebox (author)  sdobbie2 years ago
You can find them online here:

We used a MindSet for this project but there is support for the $99 USD MindWave in the SVN for Puzzlebox Synapse.
Which linux distro are you currently using?

Also it would be a bit of a pain to carry around a laptop when ever you want to fly it. Have you any ideas for a case design and making the whole thing smaller so you can have nothing but an electrode on your head and a little box in your pocket?
P.S: if you did this to a real helicopter, and you start to worry (maybe about to crash) will you fly up or down?
puzzlebox (author)  james.mcglashan2 years ago
ha ha, no you would have a failsafe in place at all times. In fact the current software version does not do it but there's no reason you couldn't program a "safe landing" procedure to be called any time attention levels dropped below a certain threshold, including if the headset was turned off or became disconnected.
puzzlebox (author)  james.mcglashan2 years ago
Currently we are using Fedora Linux and releasing RPM packages alongside Windows executables and plain source code. The software should work under Apple OS X as well or any other distribution of Linux for that matter.

Regards the laptop question, it should be possible to port the code to run from an Arduino or similar embedded device.
samando3 years ago
This is just amazing., but as most entry-level indoor RC helicopters are controlled by infra-red, it it possible to use IR with this setup?
-Hope that makes sense.
puzzlebox (author)  samando2 years ago
There's no reason why an IR transmitter wouldn't work, although the hack would be slightly different. Because our modification was tailored to the protocol used by the Spektrum transmitter chip, you would need to adapt the code (and possibly the approach) to deal with the differences between the two systems.

One suggestion would be to set the voltage levels of the joystick potentiometers manually using an Arduino or similar. In theory that should work with any type of remote control which has variable throttle and steering.
matthewvenn3 years ago
ace! would like to know more about how to use a logic analyzer.
puzzlebox (author)  matthewvenn2 years ago
We used a software-based logic analyzer from Saleae. The control software is Open Source and we found the hardware pricing to be quite reasonable. You can check them out at their website:
puzzlebox (author) 2 years ago
Wow! Looks like we got hit with many great questions and feedback following a mention by Wired magazine

Apologies for the delay, we will attempt to respond to everyone presently.
lambsb3 years ago
LOL Today hover, tomorrow forward flight, geesh next week doin' 3D inverted hurricanes. Nice 'ible. I've thought about the possibilities of using a PIC and accelerometers to control a CP such as my Blade SR. I think it would be possible, especially if you could record inputs such as for a steady hover to get a map of the input values. Once you got a steady hover under self control, forward flight would be rather easy.

Happy Hovering!
The Moog3 years ago
Very impressive, one of the best instructables I've ever seen.
Bowtie413 years ago
WAY WAY WAY above my technical abilities,but boy is it entertaining to watch what you did.And people scoff about our future generations lack of knowledge.Very proud of what you've done indeed.BRAVO!!
Ollus3 years ago
I can imagine it being used as a scout for a soldier, policeman etc. with some training they'd be able to scout the area they need using a small camera and a visor. RC would be set so that when idle i'd sit nearby/ fly in a distance, when needed (triggered by visor pulled down) it'd come to the user, ready for commands. GREAT IDEA, great instructable, great concept. I bow to thee.
ronhogwarts3 years ago
Just to say that this is not a toy helicopter, it is a hobby grade mcx2 made by e-flite
Look at the size of it son, that's a toy. Unless you're just in it for the technicalities.... try flying this outside in a 2KM wind even....toy.
Franco0 MaXoR3 years ago
So, is T-rex 250 a toy?
Or some of the micros walkera?

>4ch it`s hobby-grade.
sitearm3 years ago
stunned appreciation... The best parts - AFTER the idea of using a RC helicopter, which is a brilliant, instant attention getter - are the demonstration of off-the-shelf brainwave monitoring application tools, and the "oh so simple [NOT]" demonstration of reverse engineering chip throttle signals. I've bookmarked your website. Kudos to the Puzzlebox science education initiative!
msuzuki7773 years ago
Fantastic Instructable. I especially like the Layman's Explanations.
For the typical Instructable reader, I would say it is much easier to interface at the analog level as you mentioned. Most Instructable readers (probably) do not have access to oscilloscopes and logic analyzers or the knowledge how to use them. And it is much easier to duplicate a few analog voltages rather than complex serial waveforms.
Nevertheless, I am thoroughly impressed with your 'real world' application of mind control. Besides the future of military applications, just think of what the future couch potato can do or even better a handicapped person.

9ale73 years ago
when i see these of videos.. i feel that my high school was a waste of time, not because i would've done them but because i would know they exist:
"big difference"

yet it's never to late to learn new stuff
great project !
MaXoR 9ale73 years ago
wow, so freaking true. Schools are dismal at truthfully teaching us what we need to be prepared for tomorrow.

In my corner of the world, it's like they expect the world to be how it was in the 80's, or now I guess they updated to the 90's. Schools are supposed to prepare us for the FUTURE, not just inform us of what was available in the past.
bart4163 years ago
For the people who don't have a logic analyser. A digital sampling oscilloscope can often sort of get the job done in single shot mode if the problem you're after doesn't occur too long after a simple trigger condition and the baud rate is low. But prepare to spend a lot of time figuring out what's actually being transmitted as you'll have to do all of it by hand.
gabrielsan3 years ago
Amazing, I wonder if I'll be capable of doing something like that someday
cb553 years ago
Yeees,this is a great way to destroy a hobby..
Dr3amz3 years ago
You guys are solid !!!

Very nice work. :)
pmet3 years ago
Absolutely stunning work! Keep it up!
nadeemnas3 years ago
rachel3 years ago
Effing awesome! Love the concept and you write excellently detailed instructions and explanations. What will you use your brain to control next?

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