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Jul 14, 2012

Robot avatar body controlled by thought alone

Via: New Scientist

For the first time, a person lying in an fMRI machine has controlled a robot hundreds of kilometers away using thought alone.

"The ultimate goal is to create a surrogate, like in Avatar, although that’s a long way off yet,” says Abderrahmane Kheddar, director of the joint robotics laboratory at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tsukuba, Japan.

Teleoperated robots, those that can be remotely controlled by a human, have been around for decades. Kheddar and his colleagues are going a step further. “True embodiment goes far beyond classical telepresence, by making you feel that the thing you are embodying is part of you,” says Kheddar. “This is the feeling we want to reach.”

To attempt this feat, researchers with the international Virtual Embodiment and Robotic Re-embodiment project used fMRI to scan the brain of university student Tirosh Shapira as he imagined moving different parts of his body. He attempted to direct a virtual avatar by thinking of moving his left or right hand or his legs.

The scanner works by measuring changes in blood flow to the brain’s primary motor cortex, and using this the team was able to create an algorithm that could distinguish between each thought of movement (see diagram). The commands were then sent via an internet connection to a small robot at the Béziers Technology Institute in France.

The set-up allowed Shapira to control the robot in near real time with his thoughts, while a camera on the robot’s head allowed him to see from the robot’s perspective. When he thought of moving his left or right hand, the robot moved 30 degrees to the left or right. Imagining moving his legs made the robot walk forward.

Read further at: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21528725.900-robot-avatar-body-controlled-by-thought-alone.html

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