Recently Zac Vawter set a milestone by ascending one hundred flights of stairs in 45 minutes using bionic legs controlled via brain signals. French and Japanese researchers at the CNRS-AIST Joint Robotics Laboratory are hoping to take the next step in brain-controlled devices. The scientists are hoping to create a way for users to control the movements and actions of a robot through brain computer interfaces (or BCI).
How does this work exactly? A user is presented with flashing icons on a screen. If the user focuses on one of the icons, his or her brain produces unique frequencies associated with that icon. Users must wear a cap, embedded with electrodes, that sends brain electrical signals to a signal processing unit within a computer, which will then translate these signals into movement by the robot. However, the set of movements appears to be quite limited in this demonstration, as users can only implement the functions that are flickering on the screen at that time.
The researchers hope this technology will help paraplegics, who can manipulate a robot to assist in daily tasks or even sight-see in foreign countries. This research highlights the ever-expanding applications of brain-computer interfaces. Already, we have seen BCI restore partial vision to the blind, extract mental images, and generate use of prosthetic limbs. What could possibly be next?