While it may sound like something straight out of a science fiction flick, researchers from Switzerland’s Federal Institute of Technology are actually developing a robot that will help immobile people interact with the world. The robot responds to human thoughts, allowing quadriplegic patients to control it with nothing but the power of their thoughts.
Recently researchers demonstrated the new invention with the help of Mark-Andre Duc, a hospital-bound man from Switzerland who is partially quadriplegic. Duc, who uses a wheelchair and has no control over his legs or fingers, was fitted with a head cap that is able to record the signals emitted by his brain. When Duc imagined lifting a finger, the cap sent signals to a laptop at the hospital, which decoded the brain waves and transmitted the message to a foot-tall robot in the Lausanne lab, located 62 miles away.
The robot is equipped with a camera and monitor, giving it the impression of a rolling laptop displaying Duc’s face on its screen. According to Duc, the robot is easy to control when he is feeling well; it is more difficult, however, on days when he is in pain. The reason for this is that the thinker needs to focus on controlling the robot, something that is difficult to do when distracted by pain. Distractions cause the brain waves to weaken, and scramble the signal being sent.
Other experiments have been conducted using the workings of mind-reading robots, but this was the first that did not require either able-bodied patients or invasive brain implants. The research gives hope that eventually mind-controlled technology could be developed to significantly improve the quality of life for paralyzed individuals.