Scientists in Switzerland have demonstrated a robot that can be controlled by a quadriplegic wearing an EEG cap fitted with electrodes.

Connecting human thought to a machine is a pursuit that once only existed in science fiction, but now Swiss scientists have made the impossible a reality. Researchers at Switzerland’s Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne have demonstrated that a partially paralyzed person could control a robot by thought alone, giving hope that someday immobilized people will be able to interact with even remote environments through pseudo-avatars.

To begin, the team used a head cap to record the brain signals of Mark-Andre Duc, a partial quadriplegic who was located at a hospital over 50 miles away. This system is unique because it doesn’t require any invasive neural implants, simply an EEG cap fitted with electrodes. The electrical signals captured were analyzed and transmitted to a foot-tall robot located in the Lausanne research lab that was then able to replicate the patient’s intentions. For example, when the patient was asked to imagine walking forward, a computer in the hospital decoded the electrical signals by laptop and then transmitted the corresponding command to the robot which moved accordingly. By building a robot complete with camera, screen, and microphone, the hope is that immobilized users will be able to extend their virtual presence to any location, especially those which were previously inaccessible or difficult to reach by wheelchair in the first place.

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