Brain Technology: We Can Now Move Objects with Our Minds
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June 25, 2007

Brain Technology: We Can Now Move Objects with Our Minds

Brain_technology_3Remember those scenes in the Star Wars movies where Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi has the ability to control the movement of objects using the "The Force"?

A new technology is now available in Japan for human use that will allow you to move objects without lifting a finger—simply by thinking.. They best part is you don’t have to have wires poked into your head like lab monkeys with electrodes implanted in their brains. 

Hitachi's scientists are developing a brain TV remote controller that will allow the individuals to turn the TV on and off or switch channels by thinking only. (As if we weren’t lazy enough already.) This new technology is believed to develop into widespread applications.

Hitachi recently showed off a mind-control toy already being used in testing. The electronic devices uses "brain-machine interface" to analyze slight changes in the brain's blood flow and translates brain motion into electric signals.

By placing a cap on your head, which is able to read your brain signals, you can control an object with your thoughts. A recent demonstration at Hitachi's Advanced Research Laboratory in Hatoyama, just outside Tokyo, showed off a toy train controlled by brainpower.

"Take a deep breath and relax," said Kei Utsugi, a researcher, while demonstrating the device on Wednesday.

At his prompting, a reporter did simple calculations in her head, and the train sprang to life and started moving forward. By doing calculations the reporter activated her brain's frontal cortex, which handles problem solving.

Activating that region of the brain—by doing sums, singing a song, or something similar—is what signals the train to run, says Utsugi. When one stops the brain activity, the train stops too.

So, how does it work? The underlying technology to Hitachi's brain-machine interface uses “optical topography”. The device sends a small amount of infrared light through the brain's surface to map out changes in blood flow. Blood flow in the brain changes as our mental processes shift, and the device reads that change and interprets it.

Traditionally brain-machine interface technology has focused on medical uses, but now companies like Hitachi and Japanese automaker Honda Motor are racing to refine the technology for commercial application.

Honda is developing interface monitors similar to MRI machine used in hospitals. They plan to develop intelligent, next-generation automobiles that can literally read your mind.

Initial uses would be helping people with paralyzing diseases communicate even after they have lost all control of their muscles, but the technology will likely one day replace many commonly used products like remote controls, keyboards, electric wheelchairs, beds, artificial limbs and more.

Hitachi already came out with a device in 2005 based on optical topography that monitors brain activity in paralyzed patients so they can answer simple “yes” or “no” questions.

"We are thinking of various kinds of applications," project leader Hideaki Koizumi said. "Locked-in patients can speak to other people by using this kind of brain-machine interface."

While these bigger projects are being developed, Koizumi says that the technology is entertaining in itself and could easily be applied to toys.

"It's really fun to move a model train just by thinking," he said.

Posted by Rebecca Sato

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Comments

Wouldn't you worry about the nature of the brain - flighty, unfocused, and daydreamy? I mean, if your car can read your mind, and you start day dreaming about a hot guy you met the other day, does the car suddenly steer off the road because the blood flow in your brain has changed?


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