Controlling a robot with your mind

July 13, 2012
RobotControl_Ramsey_UMCUtrecht01

(Credit: Nick Ramsey/UMC Utrecht)

Brain researcher Nick Ramsey of the UMC Utrecht has developed a brain-computer interface that will some day allow paralyzed people to control a computer.

The system uses a 7 Tesla MRI scanner. Subjects keep their eyes focused on a single point on a computer screen showing what a robot’s camera could “see.” The computer learned when the subjects were thinking left, right or forwards and redirected the robot.

RobotControl_Ramsey_UMCUtrecht02

(Credit: Nick Ramsey/UMC Utrecht)

Ramsey and other colleagues have enabled four subjects to control a robot. The robot successfully completed a course of about nine meters with four stops along the way, while the “driver” was lying elsewhere in an MRI scanner.

“All four study subjects were able to control the robot very quickly”, explains Ramsey. “They all felt in control of the robot. This means that this type of brain-computer interface is very easy to master. Training is barely needed.”

Ramsey believes that controlling the robot through the MRI scanner will be a first step for these patients. If the paralyzed people manage to control the robot, the investigators and doctors may propose to implant electrodes in their brains to control a computer.

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