Tokyo (Japan) - Honda Motor Company has announced a new development in robotic control -- a brain machine interface (BMI). A computerized sensor-net reads subtle electrical impulses directly from a person's scalp, as well as related changes in cerebral blood flow. Each time a person thinks about various movements, such as right hand or left hand, the computer identifies the thought, which is then sent to a thought-controlled version of Asimo the robot, which responds to those thought-commands.In the process, thoughts are transmitted by a human. Next, a sensor-net helmet reads subtle electrical signals and blood flow changes directly from the person's scalp. Third, a computer analyzes the signals and compares them to previous known samples. Finally, once the computer makes a determination, it wirelessly sends the signal to Asimo, which then responds mimicking the instruction.
A version of Asimo, pronounced awe-she-moe, Honda's human-shaped robot, has been configured to receive wireless commands via the thought-controlled system. A human wears the sensor-net helmet which looks like something from a beauty salon and, when thinking about various actions, commands Asimo to move.
See the March 31, 2009 demonstration by Honda Research Institute, Japan Company Limited. Actual demonstration begins at 1:45 in the video.
[Can't see the video? Try this YouTube link.]
As cards chosen by participants depicting a particular action are positioned before the human (such as "right hand"), his thoughts are monitored and analyzed by the sensor-net and computer. Once the assessment of his thoughts is made, a process taking about five to ten seconds, Asimo responds with a choreographed sequence highlighting and demonstrating one of the system-recognized actions. Asimo says (in Japanese), "Yes. I received the result. I think this is correct. It is 'Right Hand'." And then Asimo begins the choreographed move to raise its right hand in a power-to-the-people gesture.
Honda has indicated future uses for the technology include things like having an in-home or car sensor recognize things like "Gosh, it's hot in here" and then automatically adjusting the temperature down, or as approaching the car with two armloads of groceries thinking "I need to open the trunk" and the trunk springs open.
Honda has not revealed how such technologies would be employed without wearing the salon-like device. However, the current state of the technology requires a physical contact to measure electrical currents directly on the scalp. Future versions may be able to read infrared and other EM emissions to make the determination. If true, then the possibility of having more detailed thought-reading abilities could also be possible, which to this author is a rather scary prospect. To quote Jayne on the Firefly episode "Objects in Space", "Well I don't like the idea of someone hearing what I'm thinking," to which Inara replied, "No one likes the idea of someone hearing what you're thinking."
See Honda's press release.