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Toyota researchers in Japan have built a brain/machine interface (BMI) that has been demonstrated to control a wheelchair using a person's thoughts.
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. 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.