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Controlling a Robot Arm With Only Your Mind Now Possible!

Dec 16, 2016 10:26 AM EST
People can control a robotic arm with only their minds
Researchers have made a major breakthrough that allows people to control a robotic arm using only their minds. The research has the potential to help millions of people who are paralyzed or have neurodegenerative diseases. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Mind control had previously belonged to the realm of science fiction, but scientists from the University of Minnesota have just made it possible. By introducing a major breakthrough that allows people to control a robotic arm using only their minds, the researchers believe this discovery has the potential to aid patients who suffer from paralysis or neurodegenerative diseases.

Published in Scientific Reports, the study involves a noninvasive technique, called electroencephalography (EEG) based brain-computer interface. This records weak electrical activity of the subjects' brain through a specialized, high-tech EEG cap fitted with 64 electrodes and converts the 'thoughts' into action through advanced signal processing and machine learning.

"This is the first time in the world that people can operate a robotic arm to reach and grasp objects in a complex 3D environment using only their thoughts without a brain implant," shared Bin He, a University of Minnesota biomedical engineering professor and lead researcher on the study. "Just by imagining moving their arms, they were able to move the robotic arm."

Eight test subjects completed the experimental sessions of the study wearing the EEG cap that allowed them to imagine moving their own arms without actually moving them to control a robotic arm in 3D space. The first part of the process was learning to control a virtual cursor on computer screen. Next, the test subjects learned to control a robotic arm to reach and grasp objects in fixed locations on a table.

All eight test subjects were able to manipulate the robotic arm and to pick up objects in fixed locations with an average success rate above 80 percent. They were also able to transfer items from the table to the shelf with an above average success rate reaching 70 percent.

He has determined that the next step of his research will be to develop a brain-controlled robotic prosthetic limb attached to a person's body and study how this technology could work with someone who has suffered from a stroke or paralysis. "This is exciting as all subjects accomplished the tasks using a completely noninvasive technique. We see a big potential for this research to help people who are paralyzed or have neurodegenerative diseases to become more independent without a need for surgical implants."

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