Scientists have created a telepresence robot designed to be used by people with disabilities that severely affect their motor functions. It can be controlled in a way that seems straight out of a sci-fi movie: the bot can maneuver around with only the use of the user’s brain signals.
Designed by researchers from Italy and Switzerland, the robot is controlled with a headset fitted with electroencephalogram (EEG) sensors, removing issues that can arise for people who have limited mobility with their arms, hands, and/or fingers. Software translates mental commands that the user issues—either backward, forward, left, or right—into actions that the robot can then perform.
The robot itself is a brain-user interface, more or less a laptop on wheels, with a camera that lets the user “see” the telepresence bot’s surroundings, and a screen that shows the face of the user for more personable interactions. The robot is also equipped with infrared sensors that can alert it to obstacles that might obstruct its path. Although the user is in control of the bot, its accompanying software can also override directives if it senses the presence of an object in the way of its trajectory.
To test out the robot, scientists tried it out on two groups: those that consisted of persons with disabilities, and those without. The results, chronicled in “Towards Independence: A BCI Telepresence Robot for People With Severe Motor Disabilities,” were published in the journal Proceedings of the IEEE and found that both groups could navigate the bot in relatively the same amount of time.
“Imagine an end-user lying in his bed at home connected to all the necessary equipment to support his life,” said Robert Leeb, a research scientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne who was also one of the leading scientists on the project. “With such a telepresence robot, he could again participate in his family life.”
“If we develop a system which can then be used easily by everybody, just like a cell phone, this would push the brain-computer interface technology wide out,” he added.
Check out the mind-controlled bot in the video below.