A youtuber's goofy helmet lets you operate a human like a remote-controlled car

In X-Men, characters use a shiny, grey "Cerebro" helmet to detect other mutants. In the real world, an industrious YouTuber has morphed the prop into a tool that lets people remote-control a human being like a toy car.

In a YouTube video, helmet creator Allen Pan swerves from left to right as he is "remote-controlled" by his friend using a technique called "galvanic vestibular stimulation"—a process of sending electrical signals to a nerve in the ear that controls balance. Subsequent sequences show Pan controlling other blindfolded YouTubers as they slalom through a line of red cones while receiving commands via the helmet.

"I’ve been wanting to do this since I was in high school, but I just didn’t have the skills or the tools back then," Allen Pan, Los Angeles-based YouTuber and electrical engineering graduate, told me over the phone.

Back when Pan was in highschool, he was inspired by a video that showed Japanese researchers using the technique to control their volunteers’ balance through headphones.

"If you put two electrodes to the bone right behind your ear and pass a current through it, you can stimulate your vestibular system—it tells your brain where your head is orientated and gives you your sense of balance," explained Pan.

"You can actually trick your brain into thinking that your body is tilting left or right, and to compensate you’ll naturally lean into the other direction to counteract that tilt," he added.

Pan’s repurposed DIY cerebro helmet has a circuit board from a remote-controlled toy car. This receives signals from a transmitter. The helmet disguises current-conducting electrodes that connect to the bone behind each ear, stimulating the ear nerves that maintain balance. Pam said the current that passes through is around 24 milliwatts—about the same amount of current that a little LED draws.

It’s not the first time Pan has tried to bring sci-fi tech to life. He is best known for his YouTube videos on a lightsabre and a fingerprint-enabled Thor hammer, which he displays on his channel "Sufficiently Advanced."

Though there are some commentators who wrote that they thought Pan’s helmet creation was fake, Pan seemed pretty non-plussed at the accusation, and said he’d be adding more videos explaining GVS. He added that his channel followed British sci fi writer Arthur C Clarke’s mantra that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

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31 January 2023

30 01 2023