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Mind-machine researchers get leg up from cockroach

posted 19 Nov 2012, 08:39 by Mpelembe   [ updated 19 Nov 2012, 08:43 ]

The ability to control machines with the human mind is being put to the test in Santiago,Chile, where researchers are developing technology aimed at transforming the lives of disabled people. The lowly cockroach has been recruited for the experiments to show how a single thought can control a detached object. Tara Cleary reports.

Innovations -  Bryan Salt is playing mind games - with a cockroach leg.

The inventor is trying to control the insect's limb with his brain.


"We are trying to build intuitive interfaces to the mind. We are trying to capture the thoughts that you are having and understand them to interface with software. We are working towards building a device that can build real objects with just your mind, and along the way we are learning about neuroscience.

Salt starts out with music -- whose soundwaves are similar to electrical patterns of the brain -- to identify the frequencies that stimulate the cockroach leg.

The waves bring the insect's muscles to life, the leg moves... and computer software keeps a record.


"What we do with the software is we capture how the leg moves to which particular stimulus, so we have lots of different wave lengths in the music and we can find out which one will actually stimulate it in a controlled fashion. So in this way the computer learns how to control the leg."

Once that lesson is learned, Salt dons a neuro-headset that reads the electrical waves being emitted by his brain.

The system is "trained" to read his thoughts - in this case, the waves created by the intention to move the roach's leg.


"So I captured how I'm thinking about moving the leg and then when the computer detects that again, it then passes that information on from what it has learned about the cockroach leg to be able to control it. So we are controlling the leg with your mind."

The ultimate goal, says Salt is to develop software that will establish a direct connection between the brain and a computer - and that is already happening.

Salt is working with teenager Sergio Seguel who has invented a robot hand.

They're using Salt's research to control the hand using mind signals.


"For example, we want to experiment with someone who has an orthopedic arm so they can move it with their head, by thinking about it moving. It's incredible."

And if successful, Salt says the technology could be transformative, particularly in the field of prosthetics ... forging a potentially life-changing link between mind and machine.