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Machine Mimics Movements by Sensing Brain Activity (July 11, 2006)

The robot mimics hand movements by analyzing brain activity. (Jiji)
Honda Motor and the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR) have jointly developed new technology that enables a robot to mimic the movements of a person by reading the patterns of activity in the person's brain. Clench your fist, and the robot does the same; hold two fingers up, and the robot does likewise. Researchers in the West have already developed technology in which devices can be operated by implanting electrodes in the brain or controlling blood flow through special exercises, but this is the first system in the world to achieve robotic movement using changes in the natural blood flow caused by brain activity.

New Use for MRI Data
The new technology takes advantage of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which is well known for its use in medicine. Subtle changes in blood flow occur in the brain when a person moves. These changes are interpreted through MRI, and this data is used by the robot to reproduce the person's movement. In an experiment using the game rock, paper, scissors, the robot analyzed changes in blood flow to judge which of the game's three hand gestures the person was making and mimicked this gesture seven seconds later. Accuracy varied from person to person, but the robot made the right gesture 85% of the time, and the ATR says that in the future it should be able to mimic more complex movements.

The robot uses MRI technology. (Honda and ATR)

Robots today cannot do anything unless they are controlled manually or programmed by human beings. But if this new technology continues to develop, it may become possible to control a robot just by thinking. Over the next year the research team aims to make it possible to control the robot hand just by imagining the appropriate hand movement, as well as to miniaturize the brain-reading device down to the size of a hat, ready for putting the system into practical use.

Potential for Use in Electric Wheelchairs
Aiming to develop a robot whose movements are entirely controlled by human thought, Honda plans to apply this latest innovation to its bipedal robot ASIMO. The company hopes to produce a robot that helps people in their daily lives within five to ten years.

The ability to control a machine simply through the power of thought could have positive implications for severely disabled or elderly people. Such technology would enable the development of electric wheelchairs and other assistive devices that could be controlled through signals from the brain, circumventing the need for manual controls.

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Copyright (c) 2006 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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