Controlling robots with your thoughts

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Posted on May 7, 2013
Student Angel Garcia use his eyes, eyebrows and other parts of his face to make the robot move. Credit: Thor Nielsen

Student Angel Garcia use his eyes, eyebrows and other parts of his face to make the robot move. Credit: Thor Nielsen

This is Angel Perez Garcia. He can make a robot move exactly as he wants via the electrodes attached to his head.

“I use the movements of my eyes, eyebrows and other parts of my face”, he says. “With my eyebrows I can select which of the robot’s joints I want to move” smiles Angel, who is a Master’s student at NTNU.

Facial grimaces generate major electrical activity (EEG signals) across our heads, and the same happens when Angel concentrates on a symbol, such as a flashing light, on a computer monitor. In both cases the electrodes read the activity in the brain. The signals are then interpreted by a processor which in turn sends a message to the robot to make it move in a pre-defined way.

“I can focus on a selection of lights on the screen. The robot’s movements depend on which light I select and the type of activity generated in my brain”, says Angel. “The idea of controlling a robot simply by using our thoughts (EEG brainwave activity), is fascinating and futuristic”, he says.

A school for robots

Angel Garcia is not alone in developing new ways of manoeuvring robots. Today, teaching robots dominates activity among the cybernetics community at NTNU/SINTEF.

In the robotics hall, fellow student Signe Moe is guiding a robot by moving her arms, while SINTEF researcher and supervisor Ingrid Schjølberg is using a new training programme to try to get her three-fingered robot to grasp objects in new ways.

“Why all this enthusiasm for training?”

“Well, everyone knows about industrial robots used on production lines to pick up and assemble parts”, says Schjølberg. “They are pre-programmed and relatively inflexible, and carry out repeated and identical movements of specialised graspers adapted to the parts in question”, she says.

Read more at: Phys.org