esearchers at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis created a brain-computer interface — a system that allows the brain to communicate directly with an external device — that lets participants control the path of a flying object, known as a quadcopter, simply by thinking about specific movements. The futuristic technology could one day help people with disabilities lead more independent lives, the scientists said.

The specially designed interface is non-invasive, which means it does not require any implanted devices. Instead, users don an electro-encephalography (EEG) cap with 64 attached electrodes that pick up signals from the brain. When participants think about a specific movement — up, down, right or left, for instance — neurons in the brain's motor cortex produce tiny electric signals that are then sent to a computer, explained Bin He, a biomedical engineer and the project's lead scientist. [5 Crazy Technologies That Are Revolutionizing Biotech]

11 Insane Inventions You Didn't Know Existed

"The signal coming from his brain is being picked up by these sensors and then decoded and sent through a Wi-Fi system to control flying quadcopter," He said in a video produced by the National Science Foundation. "The computer is going to read that digital signal and do all the processing and extract out the brain signal and control quadcopter."

He and his colleagues are testing the system on students, who first undergo 10 to 20 hours of training by using their thoughts to virtually fly an aircraft over a computer-generated model of the university's campus. This helps the students develop "mind tricks" to distinguish between different movements. For example, the brain may process movements differently when a person is preparing to throw a baseball with the right hand, as opposed to the left hand.

Next, the participants controlled the quadcopter with their minds and tried to fly it through a real obstacle course made of balloons.

Eventually, he says the technology could be used to help people with disabilities perform basic, everyday tasks, such as making a phone call, turning on a television, or surfing the Internet.

Get more from Live Science

  • 9 Totally Cool Uses for Drones

  • In Photos: Quadriplegic Uses Mind-Controlled Prosthesis

  • Super-Intelligent Machines: 7 Robotic Futures

This article originally appeared on LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company, copyright 2014. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.