Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR) and Honda Research Institute Japan Co., Ltd. have jointly developed base technology for a new BMI (brain machine interface) to operate robots based on the human brain's activity patterns. By measuring brain activity, the technology judges the subject person's action from an image pattern and makes a robot take the same action almost in real time (about 7 seconds). Tomohiko Kawanabe, Director of Honda R&D Co., Inc. said, "This is a breakthrough technology that changes the relation between the human and machine. First of all, we aim to apply the technology for an interface to connect the 'ASIMO' and the human." The companies aim to further develop the technology to operate machines only by thinking in the future.
At the demonstration, the companies asked a subject person to show paper, rock or scissors with his hand, or loosen his hand and made a robot hand mimic each action. The technology abstracts parts related to move command from images representing brain activity measured with the fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) system, figures out whether the subject is showing paper, rock or scissors based on each different distinction by action, and transmits the result to the robot to make it show the same action as the subject does.
Used to judge the subject's action from image patterns is ATR's brain activity decoding technology. This technology analyzes fMRI patterns by making the most of diverse methods including the "Support Vector Machine" and multiple classification analysis, works out what image pattern corresponds to which action, and judges action from an image pattern. This technology enables the robot to copy action almost in real time by simultaneously measuring and analyzing the subject's action. Currently, it supports the movement of wrists and fingers as well as the abovementioned paper-rock-scissors action. Furthermore, ATR is also exploring the technology's support of voice command and it already supports pronunciation of one letter, according to the company.
fMRI is highly reliable to know what part of the brain is working on a spatial basis, but it takes about 5 seconds for changes to show on the image after the brain starts working as the technology measures brain activity with brain blood stream that changes in the wake of brain activity. Combined with about 2 seconds separately needed to transmit and analyze signals, it takes about 7 seconds before the robot starts mimicking the subject's action, which may be regarded as rather slow. In addition, fMRI is a large machine and costs as much as hundreds of million yen. Therefore, ATR and Honda are currently testing other methods than to use fMRI, such as to employ a less expensive near-infrared system and a system using measurement of brain waves or magnetic fields, where signals run faster. The companies aim to improve real time performance and reduce the size of their product, by enhancing precision in these methods.
Tsunenori Tomioka & Masaru Yoshida, Nikkei Monozukuri