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Thought Control For Robots

Thought Control For Robots

By Katherine Ball

The genii at the University of Washington have created a sophisticated link-up between the human brain and robotic technology which allows human thought to control mechanical movement. While this may sound like some deluded science fiction fantasy akin to metamorphosis and super human powers, they’re actually not joking.

Wearing a remarkable but nevertheless rather disturbing looking piece of headwear (think Hellraiser not Hugo Boss) a series of electrodes pick up the brain signals from the outer part of the skull in a process rather lyrically named electroencephalography.

To control basic movement the subject watches the robot through two cameras connected to a computer; the controller then watches as two objects are illuminated at random. When the chosen object is selected by the subject it becomes brighter causing a ‘surprise’ signal to occur within the brain. The computer recognises the characteristic pattern and the signal is then electronically fed back to the robot and causes it to react accordingly.

While the commands are at present very basic, walk, pick up and so forth so far the results are rather astounding. The practical uses of these robotic advances could potentially be enormous as well as helping in the everyday life of physically disabled people across the world.

While the technology is at a very early stage the inventors, led by Professor Rajesh Rao, hope to increase the scope of the programme from avoiding objects to actually ‘learning’ and adapting to new environments.

This technology could really make a difference in the lives of physically disabled people as well as making life for the rest of us much easier. So thankfully it looks like the Robomaid4000 isn’t too far off into the future; in the meantime though I’ll have to keep bribing my younger siblings to tidy my room and hope my parents appreciate my occasional money-begging visits enough to do my washing. Ahhh.

Find out more about Katy and read her other articles here.  You can watch the robot at work on this video.

Image: Rajesh Rao

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26 Jul 2009
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