True cyborgs: “disabled patients mind-meld with robots”

RobotDisabled patients are learning to use robot extensions directed by brain activity, currently in a limited way – but tests are promising. One hope is that “locked-in” patients, those unable to communicate with the outside world, can use robots to communicate and interact.

Researchers set up a modified Robotino robot with an interface that translates EEG signals into realtime navigation instructions. Initial tests were with healthy subjects, then with disabled subjects who had been confined to bed for 6-7 years.

Researcher José del R. Millán, a biomedical engineer at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, says “says he wasn’t terribly surprised that disabled people could control the robot.” However

he was surprised how fast they learned. He is now hoping to involve more bed-bound patients, including locked-in patients in the study. He also sees future applications for the shared control brain-machine interface, such as modifying it to let a user control a prosthetic limb or a wheelchair. And the researchers may eventually add an arm to the current telepresent robot to allow it to grasp objects.