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Thursday, 25 June 2015

New robot can be remotely controlled by the thoughts of disabled people

Scientists have developed a “brain-machine approach” to enable patients with limited mobility or paralysis to remotely control a robot with their thoughts, says the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale De Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland. The team of researchers at the Defitech Foundation Chair in Brain-Machine Interface (CNBI), headed by José del R. Millán, announced the research on June 23, 2015. The findings were published in the June special edition of the Proceedings of the IEEE, an issue that is dedicated to brain-machine interfaces.

Man in a wheelchair controls a robot from his hospital bed to communicate on Skype

The researchers tested nine people with disabilities and ten people without disabilities in Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. Participants wore hats with electrodes capable of analyzing their brain signals. Their thought instructions were transmitted via the Internet in real time from their home country. The robot in the EPFL lab had a screen, wheels, and a video camera to record its movement while displaying the face of the remote pilot via Skype. The person at the controls could interact with other robots in the robot’s path.

"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. The robot is capable of avoiding obstacles even when it is told not to avoid them. If the robot does not receive instructions, it will continue to move on its predetermined path until ordered to stop. This allows pilot time to rest while navigating. Researchers did not find any differences between the piloting abilities of disabled people or people without disabilities.

Professor Millán says that it is too soon for this type of technology to become a part of the daily lives of people with disabilities. "For this to happen, insurance companies will have to help finance these technologies."

Source: Examiner, 24th June 2015

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