comment:This new thought-powered technology is getting
very exciting now that we are getting practical applications like this wheelchair (which will be incredibly helpful
to physically disabled people). Brain machine interfaces still seem a little "clumsy" with all the wires and EEG
helmets etc... but give it time! :-)
Toyota Motor Corp. today unveiled its recent research controlling of powered wheel-chairs via “imaginary hand
and foot control.” In other words, the simple thought of moving your left foot would turn your chair to the left
and so on. The interface, strangely yet appropriately reminiscent of Dr. Xavier’s Cerebro helmet, reads brain-wave
activity for the system to translate into wheelchair movement.
With its sensor-laden electroencephalogram (EEG) helmet, developed at the Brain Science Institute – Toyota
Collaboration Center (BTCC), the breakthrough technology uses methods known as Blind Signal Separation (BSS) and
Space-Time-Frequency filtering, but we’ll spare you any more geek-speak. Think of it this way - Imagine you could
squeeze out your thoughts, pour it through a strainer, pick out the important shiny bits while discarding all the
web-surfing and your ex’s nagging to construct a coherent thought. That’s how it works.
The existence of thought-controlled wheelchairs is nothing new, but the speed and accuracy of this bleeding-edge
of technology is. While previous attempts could take an eternity of several seconds between thought and motion,
Toyota claims system feedback within 125 milliseconds and up to 95 percent accuracy.
Part of the secret is a neuro-feeback loop with a processor that learns the characteristics of any individual
driver, allowing the system to self-improve the efficiency of command to action response.
As the research is geared toward the use in rehabilitation and for physical and psychological support of users,
Toyota’s official press-release earmarks this
technology for markets centered on medicine and nursing care management. Toyota feels the best path forward
includes increasing the number of system commands and development of more efficient dry electrodes.
As for us here at Autopia, we believe the the best venue to fast-track R&D is
the race track. Afterall, who could argue with triple-digit speeds, no steering wheel and an on-board camera?
Brain/machine interface transmits user's thoughts to an onboard laptop which
analyzes and passes commands to wheelchair.
Toyota researchers in Japan have built a brain/machine interface (BMI) that has been demonstrated to control a wheelchair using a person's
The system enables a person to make a wheelchair turn left or right to move forward simply by thinking the
commands. The response time is in 125 milliseconds. One millisecond is equal to 1/1000 of a second.
The BMI was developed at the BSI-Toyota Collaboration Center (BTCC), a 2-year-old research center established by
Japan's government research unit RIKEN and Toyota Motor, Toyota Central R&D Labs, and Genesis Research
Institute. Japan has focused on the control of devices through brain waves as a way to deal with the projected
shortage of healthcare workers to tend to Japan's large aging population.
The BTCC's system uses several sensors placed over the areas of the brain that control motion to measure
electrical activity in the region. The electical impulses triggered by the rider thinking of turning or moving the
wheelchair are picked up and analyzed by an onboard laptop that passes the commands on to the wheelchair.
The system has an emergency stop that can be activated by the user puffing his cheeks.
The BMI adjusts itself over time to the characteristics of each driver's brainwaves. If a person dedicates three
hours a day to using the system, the BMI can reach 95% accuracy in a week, researchers said.
A videotape of a researcher demonstrating the system has been posted on YouTube (see top of page). The video
shows the researcher navigating the wheelchair around a half dozen chairs in a room.
Plans are underway to use the technology in a wide-range of applications centered around medicine and nursing
care, the BTCC said in a statement issued Monday . Researchers are working on increasing the number of commands
that can be given to contol different devices.
In the future, the BMI technology is expected to be applied to other types of brain waves that generate various
mental states and emotions, the BTCC said.
Toyota is not the only carmaker to develop thought-control systems. Honda recently demonstrated a BMI system
that could command a robot to perform one of several predefined motions. One demonstration showed a researcher
using his thoughts to make the robot raise its right arm.
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