Computational Sensing- Robot interaction and Brain Computer Interface

Android Science (Scientific American)
Japanese develop ‘female’ android (BBC News)

These articles describe an android – a robot designed to mimic and resemble a human – designed by Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University. Named Repliee Q1Expo, “she” has been programmed with many subtle motions, such as breathing, blinking, and hand gestures. According to Ishiguro, those who interact with her sometimes even forget that she is not a human. He stresses the importance of a robot’s appearance, explaining that making one which looks like a human “gives the robot a strong feeling of presence.”

The physique and facial features of this robot were based on Japanese Newscaster Ayako Fujii.

Under Repliee Q1Expo’s 5mm thick silicone skin lies a network of piezoelectric pressure sensors, giving her the ability to differentiate various touch sensations and react appropriately. She is also equipped with tiny video cameras to record environmental stimuli and observe human facial expressions. Her senses are not fully contained within her body, however, as she requires floor sensors to aid in detecting human proximity and following (with eyes and head rotation only; she cannot walk) human movement.
She currently uses only motion detection and facial recognition to gage a person’s emotional state. Perhaps in future iterations, humanoid robots such as Ishiguro’s could have all of their mechanics and devices contained within their “body” and utilize more sophisticated technologies, such as a wireless neural sensor interface, in addition to its current methods.

This type of technology is already emerging in the field of medical science. Many companies are working towards improving the quality of life for disabled individuals, such as those who are sound of mind but confined to a wheelchair due to paralysis or other disability. By developing wearable devices which can be used to control other machines and communications by converting human thoughts into electrical signals, these companies hope to fill the human desire for independence.

BrainGate Neural Interface Systems (Cyberkinetics)

The BrainGate Neural Interface System is such a device, based on Electroencephalograph (EEG) technology, and is not merely a theoretical ideal, but is actually in existence and undergoing clinical trials at select rehabilitation centers. The tests focus mainly on controlling a cursor on a computer screen via a surgically implanted sensor which is attached to the part of the brain responsible for movement. This sensor protrudes through the skull and skin and is then connected bye a wire to the computer through an interpretive device. By combining the cutting edge knowledge from the fields of neurology and computer science, the very serious issues of freedom and independence for our disabled people may one day be solved.
Many modern homes have integrated electronic systems such as security alarms and thermostats that can be controlled from a single wall panel interface. A device such as the BrainGate could enable a person with physical limitations to manage not just a personal computer, but an entire household of devices and functions with their mind. Although the device currently has some issues with the inconvenient size and weight of the wearable device and the need for frequent adjustments, future advances resulting in refinement of its receivers and miniaturization of its parts could produce a practical tool with a huge potential customer base and social benefit.
A more in depth explanation of the technology behind this device is available in the following articles about a device which is currently commercially available and is based on the same methods as the experimental BrainGate; the NeuroPort System.

Cyberkinetics Receives Neuroport 510K Clearance (The Healthcare Sales & Marketing Network)

501(k) Summary (Official FDA document, PDF format)

Predictably, such technologies are being adopted by the entertainment industry. The trickle-down of useful devices and technology from the military or medical science realms towards the common consumer are a regular occurrence, with such popular examples as GPS, the Internet, and cellular phones.

OCZ controls games with your mind (

OCZ’s mind-control system examined (The Tech Report)

OCZ Press Release – CeBIT 2007 (OCZ Technology)

OCZ, a small firm which deals mostly in computer memory (flash and RAM), power supplies, and cooling mechanisms for the private consumer, has jumped onto the neuro-interface bandwagon with a brain-operated gaming controller for the PC dubbed the “Neural Impulse Actuator”. At first glance, this looks like a marvelous leap forward for the interface, yet it remains believable because it vaguely resembles some of the medical technology discussed earlier. However, it is of course non-intrusive, meaning the user wouldn’t have to have brain surgery in order to use it, unlike the BrainGate. It has three metal plates on the inside of the headband, which supposedly read brainwaves without any direct contact with the brain or even electrode cream which ECGs require. It could simply be a case of over-hyped vaporware, because the product has failed to be released when the articles claim it would (which is now, the end of 2007), and it apparently requires the use of facial movements. With that detail, it strongly resembles the Atari Mindlink, which was a failed concept and never made it to the mass market.

Atari Mindlink (Atari Museum)

“Although never released, feedback from Atari engineers and people who tested the Mindlink have commented that the time and effort put into the Mindlink system was wasted because the controllers did not perform well and gave people headaches from over concentration and constantly moving their eyebrows around to control the onscreen activities.”

Another company developing a similar product is Emotiv Systems. Their headsemotiv's project epocet, Project Epoc, which has many more sensors than OCZ’s, has been in development for slightly over three years and hopes to be released in 2008. Their company website has more information than OCZ’s, as well as a detailed section for developers explaining their development kits. Like the OCZ, whether its functionality will be true to its marketing remains to be seen.

Emotiv Systems

Despite such doubts, non-invasive Brain Computer Interfaces (BCI), as they have come to be called, do exist. The Neural Systems Group at Washington University works with many scientific disciplines with the aim of fusing deep understandings of the human mind as well as computer systems in order to create intelligent robots capable of learning, as well as BCI approaches to controlling computer and robots.

Neural Systems Group, University of Washington (further press links are available on this page)

The BCI they have now is somewhat of a halfway point hybrid in relation to their stated goal. A humanoid robot walks around in its own space while the human user, wearing a cap covered in electrodes, sees on a computer screen what the robot sees. The robot already has the ability to recognize objects apart from their surroundings, but it uses the human observer’s mental abilities to “decide” to pick up an object. When an object flashes on screen, the cap’s sensors pick up the brain’s “surprise” signal, which the robot interprets as instructions to pick up the object. Because the electrodes pick up these brain signals from the outside of the head, not deep within the brain where these signals originate, the instruments are only able to register “high level” commands for the robot. As illustrated by the BrainGate trials, using a BCI with implanted sensors is feasible. On the other hand, perhaps future progress along the NSG path will yield non-invasive solutions to receiving and decoding these brain signals.
With innovations such as these, it is apparent that modern science is capable of decoding the workings of the brain and translating its signals into signals legible by man-made machines. There are even successful experiments of using the brain to control robotic limbs, which has enormous potential for amputees and people living with birth defects.

Monkey’s Brain Runs Robotic Arm (LiveScience)

With the technological foundations for mind controlled computation, or brain computer interface, already established, it is apparent that a real, practical system is well on its way to the popular market. The possible applications, from gaming to business to home care, cover a wide range and potentially huge sales. The momentum behind such innovations coupled with competition for such financial opportunities will attract resources and drive development for years to come.

– Emily


~ by ecp23 on December 13, 2007.

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