Most of us believed the hype and sat through the near-three hour slog of James Cameron’s Avatar movie. Visuals aside, the plot was tedious, at best, but one of the best things about it was the way the humans could control the half-human hybrid blue aliens telepathically.
Researchers at the Virtual Embodiment and Robotic Re-embodiment project scanned the brain of university student Tirosh Shapira using an fMRI machine in Israel, while he laid there and imagined moving various parts of his body. The researchers used the machine to create an algorithm that could distinguish between the different thoughts about movement, then sent these instructions via the web to a robot in France. A camera was put on the robot’s head, allowing the student to see from his perspective, and when the student imagined moving his arms, the robot performed the action. When he imagined moving his legs, the robot walked (below)—all this was done in “near real-time.”
The New Scientist article then goes on to note:
The brain is very easily fooled into incorporating an external entity as its own. Over a decade ago, psychologists discovered that they could convince people that a rubber hand was their own just by putting it on a table in front of them and stroking it in the same way as their real hand. “We’re looking at what kinds of sensory illusions we can incorporate at the next stage to increase this sense of embodiment,” says Kheddar. One such illusion might involve stimulating muscles to create the sensation of movement.
The next stage is to fine tune the algorithm and improve functionality while also testing the application on paralyzed people. They note that electroencephalogram (EEG) technology might be more practical, but at the moment it’s not as effective as the fMRI machine.
So there’s a long way to go yet before we’re indulging in Na’vi love making using our tails, but one day soon. One day.