Geneva, Jun 24: Scientists have developed a new device that allows paralysed people to control a robot remotely using only their thoughts. The research, involving numerous subjects located in different countries, produced excellent results, researchers said.
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.
By virtue of its video camera, screen and wheels, the robot, located in a laboratory of Ecole polytechnique federale de Lausanne (EPFL), 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 Jose del R Millan from the Defitech Foundation Chair in Brain-Machine Interface (CNBI).
The robot is able to avoid obstacles by itself, even when it is not told to. To avoid getting overly tired, the pilot can also take a break from giving indications.
If it doesn't receive more indications, the robot will continue on the indicated path until it receives the order to stop.
In this way, control over the robot is shared between the human and the computer, allowing the pilot to rest while navigating.
In the end, the tests showed no difference in piloting ability between healthy and disabled subjects. In the second part of the tests, the disabled people with residual mobility were asked to pilot the robot with the movements they were still capable of doing, for example by simply pressing the side of their head on buttons placed nearby.
They piloted the robot just as if they were uniquely using their thoughts, further proof of the effectiveness of the system, researchers said. The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the IEEE.