Moving the World with Your Mind: Advances in Thought Controlled Devices
Technological advances are making it possible for people to move prosthetic limbs, wheelchairs, and even cars through the sheer power of human thought.
Once the stuff of science fiction, thetechnology is increasingly becoming reality, offering new hope to people who have lost limbs or mobility.
Thought-Controlled Bionic Arm
A prosthetic arm controlled by its owner's thoughts is no longer a futuristic fantasy. First developed by Doctor Todd Kuiken in 2002, thought-controlled arms have already been distributed to more than 50 amputees around the world, many who lost limbs while serving on active military duty.
Using Targeted Muscle Reinervation (TMR), signals from severed nerves are rerouted to working muscles. With almost as much control as a natural human hand, the artificial limbs are capable of picking up objects with stunning precision, even allowing intricate movements like putting thumb to forefinger.
Scientists are moving forward on improving the technology to increase sensation in the prosthetics, making the limbs even more lifelike.
Claudia Mitchell demonstrates the functionality of her 'thought-controlled bionic arm' during a news conference in Washington DC. Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images
Computer scientists from AutoNOMOS innovation labs of Freie Universität Berlin have developed a system that makes it possible to steer a car using the power of your thoughts.
Scientists were able to use electroencephalograms (EEG) to detect bioelectrical wave patterns for control commands like "left," "right," "accelerate," and "brake." An interface connecting sensors to a computer-controlled vehicle enabled test subjects to influence the vehicles with their thoughts.
"In our test runs, a driver equipped with EEG sensors was able to control the car with no problem -- there was only a slight delay between the envisaged commands and the response of the car," said Prof. Raúl Rojas, who heads the AutoNOMOS project at Freie Universität Berlin.
Other tests allowed participants in automatically-driven cars to choose directions at intersections.
Vehicles of the future? Perhaps. A statement on the company's website says the "BrainDriver" application is not yet roadworthy. The AutoNOMAS Project at Freie Universität Berlin will continue studying this technology in anticipation of a future in which people work with machines in a hybrid fashion.
More Thought-Controlled Marvels
Scientists in Switzerland are making progress with the thought-controlled wheelchair. Through the use of sensors in a cap which interprets signals from the brain, users are able to move the chair in a particular direction simply by thinking about moving in that direction, allowing paraplegics to move about without assistance.
Imagine spending years in one room, unable to participate in life beyond your bedroom door. Researchers are working on technology that would enable bedridden patients to become more socially interactive. An electronic cap controlled by the patient's thoughts could move a camera-carrying robot into areas the patient can no longer go.
Bionics have come a long way since The Six Million Dollar Man of 1970's fame. Rapidly advancing technology is making everyday life a little easier for people with disabilities – with the promise of a much brighter future. The possibilities are endless.
Just For Fun - The Star Wars Force Trainer
Uncle Milton's Star Wars Force trainer comes with a headset that uses brain waves to allow players to manipulate a sphere within a clear 10-inch-tall training tower, analogous to Yoda and Luke Skywalker's abilities in the Star Wars films.
Your thoughts power a fan, which blows a ball up a tube. Blow it hard enough and Yoda says "improving you are" while R2D2 whistles encouragement.
No, you're not tapping into some "all-powerful force controlling everything," as Han Solo said in the movies. But you are reaching out with mind power via one of the first mass-market brain-to-computer products. "It's been a fantasy everyone has had, using The Force," says Howard Roffman, president of Lucas Licensing.
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