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You could soon be running cars on the power of thought. Let the expert tell you how

Dean Aslam explains his project with mind-controlled robots that have applications for operating drones, prosthetics, smart homes

Updated: February 21, 2014 4:50:57 pm
Necomimi might look stupid, but it can read your mind. Necomimi might look stupid, but it can read your mind.

Will robots start delivering products for e-commerce outfit? Will they become wise enough to run our homes? Will there be purpose built robots to take on specific tasks? All tough questions. But answers to these might be closer than you think.

There are simple and fun solutions like Necomimi that literally show what is on your mind, to cutting edge technologies that let you control anything from smartphone apps to cars with just the power of thought.

We speak to The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Senior Member and industry expert Dean Aslam on his project with mind-controlled robots that have applications for operating drones, prosthetics, smart homes and can even be used in the early detection of neuro disorders, like Parkinson’s Disease.

Can you tell us a bit about your project. How is it different?

Electroencephalogram (EEG) typically use a large number of electrodes (21-64) and have been used in mind-controlled devices and limbs. For example, recently the researchers at University of Minnesota have demonstrated a mind-controlled quad-copter using 64 electrodes. However, such systems are very complex and expensive.

A few years ago, Neurosky introduced an inexpensive single-electrode (placed on forehead) EEG (the second electrode is the ground electrode attached to earlobe) that is being used in mind-controlled toys. Such commercial single-electrode EEG toys are rigid, large and not very flexible for other applications.

The researchers in the Micro and Nano Technology Lab (MANTL) at Michigan State University, were able to miniaturise the EEG electrode, the packaging of electronics and a power source by using 3D inkjet printing. Their mind-control system can be mounted in a cap or wig which, for example, can control the robots and appliances in a smart home. The new EEG system will also help study commonly occurring neural problems using a game-changing personal, inexpensive, non-invasive and comfortably-wearable integrated healthcare Microsystem.

How does mind controlling work? What are the advantages?

When we think about someone or something, the thought process is initiated, by firing neurons, in the prefrontal lobe of the brain. In order for brain to get details, it has to fire neurons in different parts of the brain. Because part of the neuron activity involves electrical currents, any thought process leads to electromagnetic waves called brainwaves that travel all over the brain.

When the brainwaves ‘leak’ out of the head they can be detected by the EEG sensors. The frequency of detected signal reflects the state of our mind; for example, whether we are focused or unfocused or relaxed. This information can be used control a robot if a wireless link is created between the EEG system on the head and the control circuit on the robot.

Mind-controlled limbs work like real limbs. Mind-controlled smart home appliances can be switched on or off automatically even we are sleeping.

Are we finally entering the real robotic age? Why?
Yes, if we use mind-controlled robots. This is because this technology combines two things that excites us the most; the brain and robots.

Is there going to be a big boost in the number of purpose built robots? What are the indicators to this effect?

Yes, because they are applicable in almost every aspect of our lives.

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