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Mechatronics

Update on Thought-Controlled Robots

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Rob Spiegel
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Rob Spiegel   11/27/2012 3:05:23 PM
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Great article, Ann. When you did your first article on thought-controlled robots, my first impression is that this technology could be used by those who need to control robotic arms and legs.

Ann R. Thryft
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Ann R. Thryft   11/27/2012 3:44:30 PM
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That's right, Rob, paraplegics and quadriplegics (tetraplegics) are one target group for this technology, for actual physical robotic embodiment a la Avatar. Under the VERE project aegis, the other target group consists of rehab training for people temporarily confined to a bed or wheelchair.

Charles Murray
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Charles Murray   11/27/2012 6:46:14 PM
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This is incredible, Ann. Any idea how long it took to write the signal processing algorithms for this? It seems like an almost-impossible task.  

Battar
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Battar   11/28/2012 9:21:47 AM
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Charles,

             The algorithms are far simpler than you think because you have a "man-in-the-loop" who can unconciously compensate for fairly large errors. For example, given 2 systems which react with a 30 degree difference in angular movement for the same input - well with one you'll just push a little harder until you get the desired result. You wouldn't even notice it. With fully automated autonomous systems, output must match input exactly or there will be trouble.

Charles Murray
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Charles Murray   11/28/2012 6:16:31 PM
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Thanks, Battar. What you say makes sense. I still have to admit, though, I find it stunning that a software algorithm can read the electrical activities of the brain and translate it into anything.

Ann R. Thryft
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Ann R. Thryft   12/3/2012 11:54:59 AM
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Chuck, I wish we had more info on the project's engineering details, which are still under development. Considering how much work has already been done aimed at similar goals, such as various methods of motion capture, I suspect it won't take all that long to write the algorithms. Battar, thanks for the response on this subject, too. FWIW, Fujitsu started working on turning the electrical impulses from a person's thoughts into electronically controlled actions back in the late 80s to early 90s.

Greg M. Jung
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Greg M. Jung   11/27/2012 8:28:50 PM
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Yes, if paraplegics and quadriplegics could benefit from this technology, that would indeed be wonderful.  I wonder if the other groups like the elderly could also benefit?  (Or would the technology learning curve be a little too steep?)

Ann R. Thryft
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Ann R. Thryft   11/28/2012 11:33:21 AM
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Greg, the elderly could certainly benefit if they're among either target group, such as people confined to bed or wheelchairs. Since the technology is still being developed, most of the current learning curve is occurring among experimenters as they learn what thoughts produce what actions. Ideally, there won't be much for users.

Rob Spiegel
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Rob Spiegel   11/27/2012 9:57:35 PM
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This technology could take prosthetics to a new level for users. While it may be awkward now, I would guess this technology will be refined in coming years.

Battar
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Battar   11/28/2012 9:26:16 AM
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Rob,

        There is a downside to using thought to control robotic actions.

"Must - stop - thinking - about - kicking - the - boss - in - the - nuts ..."

Dilbert and Wally would have a field day with this.

Can you imagine the subsequent lawsuits? "I didn't push him under the truck.. I was just thinking about the insurance money..." 

Rob Spiegel
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Rob Spiegel   11/28/2012 10:42:25 AM
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That's funny, Battar. Would the machine read our subliminal thoughts? That could bring along a whole new way of living.

Jim_E
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Difficulties of mind control
Jim_E   11/29/2012 8:38:04 AM
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I was just reading this article in Wired ( the real paper magazine, which I prefer ) about the difficulties of controlling prosthectics via mind control.

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/03/ff_prosthetics

I certainly hope that they can make progress in this field, as it would improve the quality of life of many people.

 

Jack Rupert, PE
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Re: Difficulties of mind control
Jack Rupert, PE   11/29/2012 9:46:29 PM
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Interesting link, Jim_E.  Thanks for posting. I would think that the "bionic limb" idea would actually be easier since they are trying the use the biological processes already in place to do essentially what they were designed to do - think about moving your hand that used to be at the end of your arm and the new hand at the end of your arm moves as the original once did.  The process of separate robots seems like a whole other ballgame.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Difficulties of mind control
Ann R. Thryft   12/5/2012 12:41:00 PM
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Jim_E, thanks for the link to that Wired article (and I agree about print editions: Rolling Stone in the hand is very different from Rolling Stone on line, e.g.). But trying to control the incredibly complex movements of a hand and its fingers has got to be a few orders of magnitude more complicated than controlling legs enough to make them walk. So I'm not surprised there's been little progress in that area.

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