Posted 4/26/2012 8:43:32 AM UTC
Updated 4/26/2012 8:43:32 AM UTC
A robot, which was developed at Switzerland's Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, is worked by wearing a simple head cap.
Swiss scientists have demonstrated how a partially paralyzed person can control a robot by thought alone, a step they hope will one day allow immobile people to interact with their surroundings through so-called avatars.
Similar experiments have taken place in the United States and Germany, but they involved either able-bodied patients or invasive brain implants.
Switzerland's Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne used only a simple head cap to record the brain signals of Mark-Andre Duc, who was at a hospital in the southern Swiss town of Sion 100 kilometers (62 miles) away.
Duc's thoughts or rather, the electrical signals emitted by his brain when he imagined lifting his paralyzed fingers were decoded almost instantly by a laptop at the hospital.
The resulting instructions left or right were then transmitted to a foot (30 centimeter)-tall robot scooting around the Lausanne lab.
Duc lost control of his legs and fingers in a fall and is now considered partially quadriplegic.
He said controlling the robot wasn't hard on a good day.
"But when I'm in pain it becomes more difficult," he told The Associated Press through a video link screen on a second laptop attached to the robot.
While the human brain is perfectly capable of performing several tasks at once, a paralyzed person would have to focus the entire time they are directing the device.
"Sooner or later your attention will drop and this will degrade the signal," Millan said.