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Honda develops brain interface for robot control

In experiments, the technology allowed researchers to control a robot through thought alone (see video below)

By Martyn Williams
March 31, 2009 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - The research wing of Honda Motor Co. has co-developed a brain-machine interface (BMI) system that allows a person to control a robot through thought alone.

The system, which was developed with the Japanese government-affiliated Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR) and precision equipment maker Shimadzu Corp., builds on previous work announced three years ago toward a future in which devices might be controlled by thought.

In 2006, Honda and ATR researchers managed to get a robotic hand to move by analyzing brain activity using a large MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanner like that found in hospitals.

The latest work is a step more advanced and measures the electrical activity in a person's brain using electroencephalography (EEG) and blood flow within the brain using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) to produce data that is then interpreted into control information. It requires no physical movement.

The system was not demonstrated today, but Honda released a video of experiments. It shows a controller sitting in a chair with a large hemispheric scanner over his head, like the sit-down hair dryers found in hair salons.

Both the EEG and NIRS techniques are established, but the analyzing process for the data is new. Honda said the system uses statistical processing of the complex information to distinguish brain activities with high precision without any physical motion.

In the video, the controller is shown one of four cards -- right hand, left hand, foot and tongue -- and asked to visualize making a corresponding movement. After being shown the card for the right hand, he visualizes moving that hand yet physically remains completely still. After an indeterminable period, Honda's Asimo robot, to which the system is hooked-up, raises its right hand.

Honda claims a 90% success rate using this method to correctly analyze thoughts.

The video starts off by proposing a world in which air conditioners will automatically come on when people in the room think it's too hot, where car doors open when owners approach with arms loaded with shopping bags, and where homeowners can think about tasks that need to be done and robots interpret the thoughts and get on with the jobs.

That day is clearly a long way off, but with the latest development, the system makes a big jump from being fixed to being portable. It's impossible to move an MRI machine around, but the computer attached to the scanner, while large, is in theory portable. The entire machine, scanner and chair appears to take up about the same amount of space as a small car.

ATR and Honda began research into BMI technology in 2005.

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Watch the technology in action
Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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