In a step toward linking a person's thoughts to machines, Japanese automaker Honda said it has developed a technology that uses brain signals to control a robot's very simple moves.
In the future, the technology that Honda Motor Co. developed with ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories could be used to replace keyboards or cell phones, researchers said Wednesday. It also could have applications in helping people with spinal cord injuries, they said.
In a video demonstration in Tokyo, brain signals detected by a magnetic resonance imaging scanner were relayed to a robotic hand. A person in the MRI machine made a fist, spread his fingers and then made a V-sign. Several seconds later, a robotic hand mimicked the movements.
Further research would be needed to decode more complex movements.
The machine for reading the brain patterns also would have to become smaller and lighter — like a cap that people can wear as they move about, said ATR researcher Yukiyasu Kamitani.
What Honda calls a "brain-machine interface" is an improvement over past approaches, such as those that required surgery to connect wires. Other methods still had to train people in ways to send brain signals or weren't very accurate in reading the signals, Kamitani said.
Honda officials said the latest research was important not only for developing intelligence for the company's walking bubble-headed robot, Asimo, but also for future auto technology.
"There is a lot of potential for application to autos such as safety measures," said Tomohiko Kawanabe, president of Honda Research Institute Japan Co.
Asimo, about 50 inches tall, can talk, walk and dance. It's available only for rental but is important for Honda's image and has appeared at events and TV ads.
At least another five years are probably needed before Asimo starts moving according to its owner's mental orders, according to Honda.
Right now, Asimo's metallic hand can't even make a V-sign.