Honda unveils thought-guided robot

The Associated Press

Honda Motor Co. has developed technology that uses brain signals to control a robot’s moves, hoping to someday link a person’s thoughts with machines in daily life.

In the future, the technology that the automaker 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 brain patterns would also have to become smaller and lighter — like a cap that people could wear as they move about, said ATR researcher Yukiyasu Kamitani.

What Honda calls a “brain-machine interface” is an improvement over past methods, such as those that required the brain to be opened surgically to connect to wires.

Other methods 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 is important not only for developing intelligence for Asimo, the company’s walking robot, 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.

At least another five or 10 years are probably needed before Asimo starts moving according to a human’s mental orders, Honda said. Right now, Asimo’s metallic hand can’t even make a V sign.

Asimo, 130 cm tall, can talk, walk and dance. It’s available only for rent but is important for Honda’s image and has appeared at events and TV ads.