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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

'It soared out of view': our editor-in-chief test drives the Emotiv mind-controlled drone 

Fly a drone with the sheer power of the mind? Sounds like something an illusionist would promise, or that I might have seen on Tomorrow's World, the long-running BBC show on the future that is now of the past.

And yet that is what I did on Sunday in Dubai. True, it was a small drone, and my mind was enabled with a highly-sophisticated headset. But in essence, that is what I did.

Thanks to Emotiv, a company with cutting-edge technology that can harness the power of your brain, we can now map how a mind works and how it can be trained to move objects.

As I stood in the grounds of the Atlantis, The Palm, Olivier Oullier, president of Emotiv, placed the company's headset on my head and his colleague adjusted a tablet to read my brain’s activity. I was asked to still my mind – a difficult feat in front of curious onlookers and a couple of photographers looking on.

After recording the behavior of my still mind for eight seconds, I was asked to concentrate my thoughts on trying to make the drone fly. Eight more seconds and the practice run was over.

Then, with Mr Oullier holding the drone and the tablet recording my brain activity, I was told to think about levitating it. I looked at it, willed it to fly, but no action. It appeared that the connection between the drone, my headset and the tablet needed adjusting.

On my second try, after a slight hesitation, the drone flew up, but crashed quickly into Mr Oullier’s chest. But at least we had lift off, if not much flying.

By this point, I felt my mind wander to the sessions at the Global Education and Skills Forum that I had to get back to. I was also wondering about how the editorial work back at The National's headquarters in Abu Dhabi was developing. And while no physical strength was required, the sheer concentration and anticipation left me somewhat in need of a rest.

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Mr Oullier seemed to sense my distraction. He told me to clear my mind and concentrate, and I realised I hadn’t really been able to focus on the task at hand with the distractions around me. So I committed to thinking solely about flying this drone and we gave it another go.

I decided to close my eyes – even if that looked somewhat odd to those watching me. As I focused on the image of the drone possibly lifting off I thought ‘just fly’. And it did. The drone took off and I continued to shout silently to myself ‘fly, fly...'.

It continued to soar to the delight of those around me. It lifted high above one of several giant tents hosting discussions at the forum – and we lost contact with it.

The drone landed out of view, presumably above the tent, meaning the Emotiv team no doubt needed the help of crew to retrieve it. While I took a few seconds to comprehend the power of thought being enough to fly a drone, I felt joyful that I had unlocked a part of my mind I had never realised could be used.

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