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A real life robot avatar controlled by the human mind

For the very first time, a robot was being controlled by a human lying in the fMRI machine. A real life avatar!

  Author: mat | Source: newscientist.com | 5th July 2012  

Most of you probably saw the Avatar movie, where people control the artificial bodies only with their minds and are experiencing things they would normally not be able to do it especially if they were handicapped. Well this could become a reality some day. And this is exactly what the Abderrahmane Kheddary, director of the joint robotics laboratory at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tsukuba in Japan is planning to achieve. As he stated, "The ultimate goal is to create a surrogate, like in Avatar, although that's a long way off yet."

Scientists at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan - Israel, used fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to scan the brain of a student while he was only thinking that he was moving different parts of his body. FMRI scanner works by detecting associated changes in blood flow, and under that the team came up with the calculation procedure that could tell apart each thought of moving different body parts. This commands where then sent to a small robot at the Béziers Technology Institute in France, via Internet connection.

After some training and calibrating the student Tirosh Shapira,  lying in fMRI was actually able to command the robot using his thought, almost in real. When he was thinking his legs are moving it made the robot walk, if he imagined moving his left or right arms the robot went left or right. Shapira said he really connected with the little fellow, as the robot was equipped with a camera so he was able to see from robot's point of view. At one point, as the robot wouldn't move due to the temporary loss of connection and the scientist picked it up to see what's wrong, Shapira said, "Oi, put me down!"

So far only healthy people have been "living" the life of an avatar robot. Next step is to test their "replacement bodies" on people who are paralysed or even in a vegetative state, now that could really change their lives in a way that was imaginable only in sci-fi movies or video games so far.


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