Robot controlled remotely with thoughts

Jul 6, 2015

by Science Daily

For someone suffering from paralysis or limited mobility, visiting with other people is extremely difficult. A team of researchers at the Defitech Foundation Chair in Brain-Machine Interface (CNBI), headed by José del R. Millán, has however been working on a revolutionary brain-machine approach in order to restore a sense of independence to the disabled. The idea is to remotely control a robot from home with one’s thoughts. The research, involving numerous subjects located in different countries, produced excellent results in both human and technical terms. The conclusions are discussed in the June special edition of Proceedings of the IEEE, dedicated to brain-machine interfaces.

19 people tested, 100% success rate

Nine disabled people and ten healthy people in Italy, Germany and Switzerland took part in the task of piloting a robot with their thoughts. For several weeks, each of the subjects put on an electrode-studded hat capable of analysing their brain signals. They then instructed the robot to move, transmitting their instructions in real time via internet from their home country. By virtue of its video camera, screen and wheels, the robot, located in a laboratory of Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL, Switzerland), was able to film as it moved while displaying the face of the remote pilot via Skype. The person at the controls, as if moving in place of the robot, was able to interact with whoever the robot crossed paths with. “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.


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4 comments on “Robot controlled remotely with thoughts

  • I don’t get it. The robot can execute only 3 commands: 1) Move right 2) Move left 3) Move straight ahead

    Does the subject simply think to command the robot? What other tasks does the subject have to master during the “10 days of training” in order to accomplish the task. I believe we had a version of this one on a previous post and someone clarified how the procedure actually works.



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  • Melvin, I suspect (I have not read the whole thing), that the 10 days of training is in order to record and analyse the thought patterns for ‘Right’, ‘Left’ & ‘Forward’. I am also guessing that each robot is tailored for the individual which is why 100% success rate. The next step is to get the robot to function without the 10 days training and have a generic interface.

    Remember the first voice recognition software? Each individual had to train the software to recognise their voice for it to do anything, now we have generic systems which seemingly recognise every ones voice.



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  • Veggiemanuk: Thanks so much. As a layperson with no technical skills in the field, I appreciate your lucid simple explanation. ( You covered the subject by my count in 56 words. If only the authors could have done as well.) Just to see if I have the gist: The electrode studded cap records the specific configuration of brain signals corresponding to each instruction for each individual subject. That configuration is transmitted in real time into “translation” by computer software that activates the electric motor of the robot to execute the instructed action mechanically. The 10-day trial period is required to program the software to transmit the instructions consistently to the robot. ( I believe I understand the internet +Skype connection between the subject’s localized computer and the distant robot computer). I’m still confused how the robot could learn a generic response unless the brain of all subjects registers instructions with the same or similar brain signals incorporated accurately into the same application.

    If veggiemanuk or anyone else has additional or qualifying info, I would appreciate the contribution.



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