Brain2Robot

November 12, 2007
Brain2Robot
A robot arm controlled by the user’s thoughts could one day make life easier for people with paralysis. © Fraunhofer FIRST

People who suffer from paralysis are confronted with many situations in which they need a helping hand.

In the Brain2Robot project, an international team of researchers has developed a robot control system that works on the basis of electroencephalograph (EEG) signals. This new idea could enable patients with severe motor disabilities to regain some of their lost autonomy.

The patient controls the robot arm with their thoughts: If they think about wanting to move their right hand, the robot arm is activated. If they imagine themselves moving their left hand, the robot arm will, for instance, lift up a cup of coffee.

But how can thoughts be translated into instructions for the robot? The solution is based on a concept known as a brain-computer interface (BCI). Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Architecture and Software Technology FIRST and the Charité hospital in Berlin have been working on this type of interface for almost seven years. For the input, they use a perfectly normal electroencephalogram (EEG), just like the ones used in everyday clinical practice.

Electrodes attached to the patient’s scalp measure the brain’s electrical signals, which are amplified and transmitted to a computer. Highly efficient algorithms analyze these signals using a self-learning technique.

The software is capable of detecting changes in brain activity that take place even before a movement is carried out. It can recognize and distinguish between the patterns of signals that correspond to an intention to raise the left or right hand, and extract them from the pulses being fired by millions of other neurons in the brain. These neural signal patterns are then converted into control instructions for the computer.

“The aim of the project is to help people with severe motor disabilities to carry out everyday tasks. The advantage of our technology is that it is capable of translating an intended action directly into instructions for the computer,” says team leader Florin Popescu.

The Brain2Robot project has been granted around 1.3 million euros in research funding under the EU’s sixth Framework Programme (FP6). Its focus lies on developing medical applications, in particular control systems for prosthetics, personal robots and wheelchairs. The researchers have also developed a “thought-controlled typewriter”, a communication device that enables severely paralyzed patients to pick out letters of the alphabet and write texts.

The robot arm could be ready for commercialization in just a few years’ time. BCI technology has potential uses in a great many applications: It could be used, for instance, for playing video games, or as part of safety systems for automobiles providing driver monitoring and driver assistance functions.

The development team will be presenting their robot arm at Medica 2007 in Düsseldorf from November 14 to 17 (Hall 3, Stand F92).

Source: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

Explore further: Robots and workers of the world, unite!

Related Stories

Robots and workers of the world, unite!

February 15, 2018

Robots are already changing the way we work—particularly in factories—but worries that they will steal our jobs are only part of the picture, as new technologies are also opening up workplace opportunities for workers ...

Faulty satellite? Robot geek squad is on the horizon

November 29, 2017

Hundreds of millions of dollars can go into the school bus-sized satellites that blast into orbit above Earth and provide services including broadband internet, broadcasting and military surveillance.

Recommended for you

Researchers find tweeting in cities lower than expected

February 20, 2018

Studying data from Twitter, University of Illinois researchers found that less people tweet per capita from larger cities than in smaller ones, indicating an unexpected trend that has implications in understanding urban pace ...

Augmented reality takes 3-D printing to next level

February 20, 2018

Cornell researchers are taking 3-D printing and 3-D modeling to a new level by using augmented reality (AR) to allow designers to design in physical space while a robotic arm rapidly prints the work.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.