Japanese researchers are perfecting a technology which allows brain signals to control an extra robotic limb.
While previous research on similar technology has focused on controlling prosthetic limbs for people who have lost an arm or a leg, the new research from Kyoto’s Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute is aimed at augmenting existing human capabilities.
In a recent experiment, Japanese researchers were able to show how a person can control a third robotic arm with their brain while making use of two existing arms. The third limb is even able to multitask, The Verge reports.
According to a paper published in the journal Science Robotics, out of 15 test subjects, eight were able to successfully grab a water bottle with a brain-controlled robot arm while balancing a ball on a board with their two hands.
Currently, the third arm’s movement is limited to perform an extremely basic task which involves a predetermined path and is done with just a gesture of closing and opening of its hand.
With electrodes that measure electrical signals fitted in the cap worn by the participants, they were asked to imagine opening and closing the robot hand. The signal produced was recorded and turned into an instruction for the robot arm.
Researcher Shuichi Nishio and his colleague Christian Peñaloza pointed out that while the current robotic arm functions are basic, their research marked the first time supernumerary limbs have been controlled using the human brain.
In past research in similar technologies, prosthetics are either operated using joysticks or by translating electrical signals from muscles.
According to Nishio and Peñaloza, more than just augmenting human physical capability. the ability to control supernumerary limbs using the brain might also help improve our brains.
The paper also noted that there are participants who did well and those who did poorly during the multitasking challenge. In the single-task challenge, where individuals were asked just to control the robot limb by itself, all participants performed pretty well.
The scientists explained that this difference suggests that some people are just better at multitasking than others. They hypothesized that using brain-controlled devices might help people improve on their multitasking skills.
“By operating this brain-machine interface, we have an idea that we may be able to train the brain itself,” Nishio was quoted as saying.
Feature Image via YouTube/HiroshiIshiguroLab