Mind control – non-invasive mind-machine interface

Paul Raven @ 06-04-2009

OK, so it’s crude, but it’s a start – boffins at the Honda Research Institute have built a helmet packed with electronics that enables its wearer to control the movement of a robot just by thinking about it:

The helmet is the first “brain-machine interface” to combine two different techniques for picking up activity in the brain. Sensors in the helmet detect electrical signals through the scalp in the same way as a standard EEG (electroencephalogram). The scientists combined this with another technique called near-infrared spectroscopy, which can be used to monitor changes in blood flow in the brain.

Brain activity picked up by the helmet is sent to a computer, which uses software to work out which movement the person is thinking about. It then sends a signal to the robot commanding it to perform the move. Typically, it takes a few seconds for the thought to be turned into a robotic action.

Honda said the technology was not ready for general use because of potential distractions in the person’s thinking. Another problem is that brain patterns differ greatly between individuals, and so for the technology to work brain activity must first be analysed for up to three hours.

Well, a calibration period is inevitable; I expect they’ll shave that timescale down considerably, and in fairly short order. And then it’ll just be a case of waiting a decade or so before applying to be a mecha-warrior, like the strung-out teenagers in Ian McDonald’s story “Sanjeev and Robotwallah”.

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