Israel brainwave gets French robot to walk

By Nathan Jeffay, July 19, 2012

A man in Israel has controlled a robot in France using just his brainwaves, in what is being heralded as a major scientific breakthrough.

Scientists from the Interdisciplinary Centre (IDC) in Herzliya and the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot placed research assistant Tirosh Shapira in an MRI machine, which measured his brain activity. He imagined the movements that he wanted a robot at the B├ęziers Technology Institute in France, to make, connected via the internet to his MRI machine .

"I was the joystick - it was very exciting," he told the JC. "It's fun, almost addictive."

The experiment involving Mr Tirosh, a 26-year-old research assistant from Rehovot, was the first time that a person has used brain activity alone to control a robot far away. He had just three training sessions to teach him to send the right signals to his brain, in order to make his limbs want to move without actually moving them. These impulses controlled the robot.

Mr Tirosh had screens showing live images from the robot's "eyes" as he controlled it. "I did feel that the robot was a kind of second body," he said.

When the robot approached a mirror, "for the first moment I thought 'I'm so cute, I have blue eyes,' even though it's not me but the robot with blue eyes." When scientists in France picked up the robot, "I felt as if I was being picked up and I wanted to scream, put me down!"

The team that ran the experiment hopes that the technology could help the paralysed by giving them the sense of being able to move around and even travel, by willing a robot to do the things that they would like to do. "It could allow paralysed people, people with locked-in syndrome, stroke patients and people with other disabilities to control devices or a surrogate body," said one of those who directed the experiment, Doron Fridman, head of the Virtual Laboratory at IDC.

Last updated: 3:01pm, July 19 2012