Robot puts human thoughts into action
Key Excerpts from Article on Website of Seattle Times (One of Seattle's two leading newspapers)
Posted: December 27th, 2006
With 32 wires sprouting from a cap on his head, University of Washington research assistant C.J. Bell stared at a computer screen and thought: "Red." Across the room, a 2-foot-tall robot called Morpheus shuffled up to a table holding a green block and a red block. Tilting his head, the machine scanned the choices with camera "eyes." Morpheus paused, then picked up the red block. Morpheus has a 94 percent success rate at reading simple mental commands. But he's only a first step toward developing a practical household robot controlled solely by brain waves, said Rajesh Rao, leader of the UW robot team and associate professor of computer science and engineering. Other researchers have wired humans to machines that allow them to move a cursor on a computer screen or operate a robotic arm with their thoughts. But those connections require electrodes inside the person's skull. With the system Rao and his colleagues have developed, the operator only suffers a bad hair day. To prepare for the demonstration, Bell pulled on the tight-fitting cap while fellow graduate student Pradeep Shenoy filled a 4-inch syringe with conductive gel. Shenoy injected the gel into the openings in the cap, and fitted an electrode to each. "The electrodes don't actually touch the skull," he explained. "They float in the goo, and the goo touches the skull. "Robotics is already an $11 billion-a-year industry. Bill Gates likens it to the computer business in 1970, when he and Paul Allen founded Microsoft.