Paralyzed Patients Move Vicariously Through Mind-Controlled Robot

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The cutting-edge brain-computer interface didn't require neural implants like previous systems, but simply a special cap fitted with electrodes.

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Thanks to a nifty demonstration by scientists at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland (EPFL), we're one step closer to realizing some of the technology from the movie Avatar. These scientists successfully demonstrated the capabilities of a robot controlled by the mind of a partially quadriplegic patient in a hospital 62 miles away.

Mind-controlled robotic systems aren't exactly new technology, but what made the EPFL system unique is that it didn't require invasive neural implants in the brain. All that was attached to the patient was a special EEG cap fitted with electrodes to record the patient's neural signals. The patient merely had to imagine lifting his paralyzed fingers, and almost immediately, the foot-tall robot in Lausanne would move forward.

The next challenge will be getting the robot to move in the presence of background noise or distractions. According to the patient, the robot was easy to move when it was given his undivided attention; in other trials when the patient was in pain or distracted by a television, it became much more difficult to get it to go.

Here's a video from Slate magazine about the demo:


This post also appears on medGadget, an Atlantic partner site.

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