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Robot Controlled Using Thoughts

Researchers have created a robot that can be steered using thoughts, as the culmination of a project called  project called TOBI: Tools for Brain-Computer Interaction. (Photo credit: Alain Herzog / EPFL)
Researchers have created a robot that can be steered using thoughts, as the culmination of a project called project called TOBI: Tools for Brain-Computer Interaction. (Photo credit: Alain Herzog / EPFL)

Researchers in Europe created a robot that can be controlled by a user’s thoughts. The team, led by José del R. Millán of Defitech Foundation Chair in Brain-Machine Interface (CNBI) hope the machine will one day help paralyzed people interact with folks near and far.

Tests have so far involved nine disabled people and ten people without disabilities in Italy, Germany and Switzerland. Each tried to steer the robot with their thoughts while wearing an electrode-studded hat that analysed their brain signals. The user’s mental directions were transmitted in real time over the Internet from their home country, to a laboratory of Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne. Cameras on the robot allowed it to film as it moved, and that data was sent to the user. Meanwhile, a display on the bot showed the remote user’s face. Users could interact with anyone they encountered while driving the robot. “Each of the 9 subjects with disabilities managed to remotely control the robot with ease after less than 10 days of training,” said Professor Millán in a statement.

Users can opt to switch into an autopilot mode, which will navigate the bot around obstacles, while continuing on the last indicated path until the user indicates the bot should stop. Tests revealed that there was no difference between the two subject groups in terms of ease of use.

The researchers, who have been working on the project since 2008, say the insurance companies would need to step up to provide the devices for them to become ubiquitous.

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