We've just come one step closer to making "Avatar" a reality.
Scientists with the international Virtual Embodiment and Robotic Re-embodiment project have, for the first time, enabled a person to control a small automaton thousands of miles away using nothing but thoughts.
According to New Scientist, by using an fMRI machine to scan the brain in real-time, roboticists were able to give a university student in Israel the ability to control a small robot at the Béziers Technology Institute in France.
The entire experiment was done over an Internet connection and there was some delay in the communication, as it takes time to register neural activity as intended movement.
While the project is a huge leap forward, it isn't the first example of mind-controlled robots. In 2009, Honda unveiled a helmet that allows the wearer to control an Asimo robot without moving a muscle, the Guardian reported. That project, however, wasn't demonstrated over long-distances and required up to three hours to calibrate before motion was possible.
The out-of-body nature of this experiment seems to have made the test subject feel like he actually was the avatar.
"I really felt like I was there," the robot controller, Tirosh Shapira, told New Scientist. "At one point the connection failed. One of the researchers picked the robot up to see what the problem was and I was like, 'Oi, put me down!'"
The project hopes to create an experience that could turn fiction into reality.
"The ultimate goal is to create a surrogate, like in Avatar, although that's a long way off yet," Abderrahmane Kheddar, director of the CNRS-AIST joint robotics laboratory at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tsukuba, Japan told New Scientist.
While an "Avatar"-like experience could be a life changing invention for the fully immobilized, thought-controlled devices have shown tremendous potential in giving even the partially physically handicapped a second chance at regaining full functionality. According to Medical News Today, a Brown University study back in May found that neural implants could be used to give paralyzed patients the ability to control a robotic limb -- which in the future could be prothesis -- in a three dimensional capacity.
From Medical News Today:
Known as the Braingate2 pilot trial, it employed the experimental Braingate system, initially developed at Brown University. An interface the size of a small pill, containing a grid of 96 electrodes is implanted into the motor cortex in the brain. The motor cortex controls voluntary movement. The electrodes are close enough to the individual neurons to be able to record the neural activity accurately enough to process the instructions to a third party device outside the body. A computer is then used to translate the commands into language that the robotic arm can understand.
Combined, advances like these could give a new lease on life to those with physical impairments as technology and materials continue to develop.
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