Man-to-Machine Brain Control Goes International With Robot Avatar Bodies

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The future of intergalactic/interspecies brain-control from the movie 'Avatar.' Um, we're not quite there yet. [Credit: Twentieth Century Fox]
We’ve seen our fair share of brain-controlled robots, from mechanical arms to brain driven skateboards. The most probable endpoint for all of these individual research projects is to create a complete robotic surrogate that you can control remotely and operate as if it was your own body.

New Scientist reports that a group of international researchers of the Virtual Embodiment and Robotic Re-embodiment (VERE) project has done just that. The scientists were able to connect a man from Israel to a robot avatar in France, which he could use to look about and move around as if he was actually there.

The research project connected university student Tirosh Shapira to the robot by using an fMRI machine to scan his brain. An fMRI is normally used to monitor a patient’s blood flow in their brain, but the VERE team called for help from scientists at the Advanced Virtuality Lab at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel to help develop software that can analyze the data and interpret commands.

Over time the team worked out a system that allowed Shapira look left and right when he thought of of moving his hands; he was able to move forward by thinking of walking. From there, the brain-scan commands were sent over to a small robot at the Béziers Technology Institute in France via Internet connection. While Shapira sends the robot commands, he gets a video feed from the robot thanks to a head-mounted camera.

Of course, there is small delay since there are so many steps involved in the intercontinental hop-skip over the Internet. What more interesting is that after three successful trials, Shapira actually began to feel like he was embodied in the robot because of his ability to directly control it with his mind. Freaky.

Be sure to check out New Scientist for more on the VERE Project including its future improvements.

What sort of moral quandaries does this raise for you? Leave a comment.

[VERE Project via New Scientist]

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