Scientists develop mind-controlled wheelchairs

Toyota touts ability to control wheelchairs with brainwaves

Toyota Motor Corp. today announced that its researchers have developed technology that will allow human brainwaves to steer an electric wheelchair.

The technology is the fastest in the world for analyzing brainwaves, Toyota said, noting in a statement that systems now in use take several seconds to accomplish that task.

The new system can analyze brainwaves and put them to work on the chair in 125 milliseconds, or 125 thousandths of a second (view video).

"Such systems allow elderly or handicapped people to interact with the world through signals from their brains, without having to give voice commands," said Toyota. "This technology is expected to be useful in the field of rehabilitation, and for physical and psychological support of wheelchair drivers."

Toyota reported that the new system successfully enabled drivers to give thought-powered commands to their wheelchairs 95% of the time.

The company is working on developing better electrodes that pick up the brainwaves, as well as improving the system so it can handle more commands.

There was no information available on how soon the wheelchair technology could be on the market.

Research into combining biological systems with computers has been gaining attention in recent years.

Late in 2007, a scientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson successfully connected a moth's brain to electronics, using it to guide a 12-inch-tall robot on wheels. Associate Professor Charles Higgins predicted at the time that "hybrid" computers running a combination of technology and living organic tissue will be available in 10 to 15 years.

Then in January of 2008, scientists in the U.S. and Japan announced that they had successfully used a monkey's brain activity to control a humanoid robot.

The research may only be a few years away from helping paralyzed people walk again by enabling them to use their thoughts to control exoskeletons attached to their bodies, Miguel Nicolelis, a lead researcher on the project, said at the time.

And about a year ago, Justin Rattner, CTO and a senior fellow at Intel, told Computerworld that perhaps as early as 2012 we'll see the lines between human and machine intelligence begin to blur.

Rattner also said that by 2050 or so, computing will be less about launching applications and more about living with computers woven into most daily activities.

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Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld (US)
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