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Thought-controlled robots are no longer the stuff of science fiction.
A group of French experts has teamed up with a Japanese robotics institute to develop technology which enables a person to remotely control a humanoid robot just by thinking about it.
The robot controller’s brain activity, which is linked with changes in blood flow, is detected by a brain scan. This has allowed researchers to develop a specific programme.
“It’s only a robot that you are operating at a distance. But the level of embodiment of the interface between the human and the robot should be in a way, such that you feel that this robot is part of you,” said Abderrahmane Kheddar, Director of the CNRS-AIST Japanese-French Joint Robotics Laboratory.
In one experiment, a camera mounted on the robot can see bottles of different sizes which flicker at a different frequency.
When the user focuses on a particular object, sensors detect the flickering frequency of the brain’s activity and the robot reaches out to grab the right bottle.
After a series of training sessions, the programme learns to associate a specific blood flow pattern with a specific body movement command.
To make the robot walk, flickering arrows appear on a screen and the sensors detect which arrow the user is concentrating on.
According to Damien Petit, a senior researcher at the lab, it is straight forward to use: “You just have to clear your mind and not to think about a lot of stuff, and just be focus on what you want to do. If you want to navigate the robot or take the object.”
A marriage between man and robot is the ultimate aim, a symbiosis which could have many every day practical uses.