Bar-Ilan University student Tirosh Shapira may have been lying in an fMRI machine in Israel, but he wasn't immobile. Nearly 2,000 miles away in France, his brainwaves were controlling a robot that moved when Shapira thought. It's the first time a robot has been controlled directly using this method.
fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) allows researchers to directly translate blood flow around Shapira's brain — which would normally show off the kind of signals that gets your body moving — into commands for the networked robot. When he thought about walking forward, the robot made the move. Same when Shapira went to turn. We've also seen the technology be used to turn your dreams into images, as well as inject information into the human brain. Inception!
We're still a ways away from being able to send robots off to work while the rest of us lay in our beds. Still, this tech demo shows some great early promise for the disabled or paralyzed to take advantage of brain-controlled bionic augmentations. After that, maybe we'll use it to control robot astronauts and, of course, it wouldn't be an innovation if it didn't let soldiers command other robot soldiers to destroy one another. Right?
In the video below, you can see all this in action: what the robot — and Shapira — sees in the bottom left, Shapira sitting in his fMRI machine in Israel, and his brain activity as he manipulates the robot's movements.