1 April 2009

A brain's thoughts become a robot's command

Thoughts inside a brain can now connect with robotics, which can help tackle simple tasks like opening a car trunk or controlling a home air conditioner.

Honda Motor Co. developed a way to read patterns of electric currents on a person's scalp as well as changes in cerebral blood flow when a person thinks about four simple movements: Moving the right hand, moving the left hand, running, and eating.

Honda succeeded in analyzing such thought patterns and relaying them as wireless commands for Asimo, its human-shaped robot.

In a video shown at Honda's Tokyo headquarters, a person wearing a helmet sat still but thought about moving his right hand, a thought picked up by cords attached to his head inside the helmet. After several seconds, Asimo, programmed to respond to brain signals, lifted its right arm.

Honda said the technology was not quite ready for a live demonstration because of possible distractions in the person's thinking. Another problem is brain patterns differ greatly among individuals, and so about two to three hours of studying them in advance must occur for the technology to work.

The technology was still at a basic research stage with no immediate practical applications in the works.

"I'm talking about dreams today," said Yasuhisa Arai, executive at Honda Research Institute Japan Co., the company's research unit. "Practical uses are still way into the future."

Arai did not rule out the possibility of a car that may some day drive itself-even without a steering wheel.

"Our products are for people to use. It is important for us to understand human behavior," he said. "We think this is the ultimate in making machines move."

For related information, go to www.isa.org/manufacturing_automation.