Man Controls A Robot With His Mind From 2000km Away

July 10, 2012 | 23:57
In the 2005 comic book series The Surrogates (turned into a movie by the same name in 2009) people remotely operate humanoid robotic substitutes with their minds. While humans stay at home strapped to the controls the surrogates go out to stand in for their physical lives.

As tech innovation speeds up fiction finds science hard on its heels. For now an international team of researchers has succeeded in mind-controlling a robot located in France, from a lab in Israel.

The robot was operated by research assistant Tirosh Shapira. In the Israeli lab Shapira’s brain activity was measured by an fMRI scanner. At the Béziers Technology Institute in France a small robot mounted with a camera awaited his instructions. Watching the video feed from the robot’s point of view, Shapira saw a member of the French team urging him/the robot forward with arm movements.

Shapira’s thoughts about moving his leg were picked up by the brain scanner, sent over the internet and only with a small time delay, the robot moved forward.

Shapira told New Scientist that he wasn’t just amazed about the technological feat they’d pulled but also at how easy the human mind is tricked: ‘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!'’

Perhaps that could be explained by watching the video feed with upmost concentration but Shapira actually identified with the robot. He describes his reaction when the French team unexpectedly put a mirror in front of the robot ‘I thought, ‘oh I’m so cute, I have blue eyes’, not ‘that robot is cute’. It was amazing.’


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