Controlling Robots with the Human Mind Now Possible

August 23, 2012

Unlocking Word Meanings
Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

1. translate (v.) 
[trans-leyttranz-, trans-leyt, tranz-] – to change something to another form or condition
Example: He hopes to someday translate his ideas for a movie into a real film.

2. link (v.) [lingk] – to connect
Example: Today’s smart phones can be linked to computers and the Internet.

3. have a long way to go (idiom) [hav uh ey lawng, long wey tuh goh] – still needs much improvement
Example: Scientists have a long way to go in finding the cure for cancer.

4. paralysis (n.) [puh-ral-uh-sis] – inability to move or use a body part
Example: The car crash survivor suffered paralysis of both legs.

5. gait (n.) [geyt] – the way in which a person or animal walks or runs
Example: The drunken man walked with an unsteady gait.

Read the text below.

Scientists have created a robot that can be controlled by just the human brain.

With the help of a brain scanner, the human is able to move the robot around as he thinks about what movement he wants the robot to do.

Previously, humans controlled robots through buttons or levers. But the new robot is controlled by a person’s brain activity measured by an fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). This brain scanner detects blood flow to specific areas of the brain and a machine translates the data into movement.

In the experiment, Tirosh Shapira, a student from Bar-Ilan University in Israel, was linked via an fMRI to a small robot located in Beziers Technology Institute in France, while scientists observed the two.

The robot’s movements responded to his brain’s commands so well that Shapira felt as though he was the robot in the French laboratory. Through the robot’s eyes, Shapira saw a mirror with the robot’s reflection instead of his own. This made his experience as the robot feel even more believable.

Before the experiment, scientists closely studied the activities of Shapira’s brain as he thought about moving different parts of his body. The researchers then developed software that could identify what Shapira’s brain wanted his body to do.

Although the technology still has a long way to go before it can be medically useful, in the future, it may be used for patients suffering from paralysis.

At the moment, scientists are focusing on reducing the size of the fMRI and making the robot’s size and gait more human-like.

Viewpoint Discussion
Enjoy a discussion with your tutor. 

Discussion A

·         What do you feel about the idea of robots being able to react to human thoughts?
·         What are the possible advantages and disadvantages of mind-controlled robots?

Discussion B

·         Are you excited or fearful of new scientific inventions? What makes you feel that way?
·         What do you think life would be like in a future with so much technology?

August 23, 2012