TOKYO – Japanese automaker Honda has developed technology that uses brain signals to control a robot's moves, hoping to someday link a person's thoughts with machines in everyday life.
In the future, the technology that Honda Motor Co. researched with ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories may substitute for a keyboard or cell phone or help people with spinal injuries move their limbs, researchers said Wednesday.
In a video demonstration in Tokyo, patterns of the changes in the brain taken by an MRI machine, like those used in hospitals, were relayed to a robotic hand.
A person in the MRI machine made a fist, spread his fingers and then made a V-sign. Several seconds later, the robotic hand made the same movements. Further research would be needed to decode more complex movements.
The machine for reading the brain patterns would also have to become smaller and lighter — like a cap that people can wear as they move about, said ATR researcher Yukiyasu Kamitani.
What Honda calls a "brain-machine interface" is an improvement over past ways, such as those that required the brain to be opened surgically to connect to wires.
Other ways that didn't require such surgery still had to train people in ways to send brain signals or weren't very accurate in reading the signals, Kamitani said.
Honda officials said the latest research was important not only for developing intelligence for the company's walking bubble-headed robot, Asimo, but also for future auto technology.
"There is a lot of potential for application to autos such as safety measures," said Tomohiko Kawanabe, president of Honda Research Institute Japan Co.
Asimo, about 130 centimeters (50 inches) tall, can talk, walk and dance. It's available only for rental but is important for Honda's image and has appeared at events and TV ads.
At least another five or 10 years are probably needed before Asimo starts moving according to our mental orders, according to Honda.
Right now, Asimo's metallic hand can't even make a V-sign.