Now We Can Communicate With Robots Using Just Our Brains

Monday, March 20, 2017

Now We Can Communicate With Robots Using Just Our Brains

Brain-Machine Interfaces

In the past, we could only communicate with robots by giving them very specific instructions. New deep learning technologies have recently allowed robots to teach themselves. Now, researchers have devised a way for people to communicate with robots using just their brains. 

Computer scientists from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and Boston University created a system that monitors a person’s brain waves with an electroencephalography (EEG), which it then uses to determine if the human agrees with the robot’s decision. It can classify brain waves in just 10 to 30 milliseconds.

If the system detects "error-related potentials" (ErrPs), brain signals that the brain creates whenever it notices a mistake, the robot will become aware that it made or was about to make the wrong choice.

The researchers are also working on enabling the robot to identify secondary errors, such as those that occur when the system doesn’t notice the human’s signal that it made a mistake. Once it can do that in real time, the team suspects its accuracy will improve by up to 90%.

At the moment, the system can decide between only two options, but because ErrPs are stronger when more serious errors occur, robots may be able to interpret the brain waves to help them make more complex decisions that incorporate more choices.

The potential uses for this technology are tremendous. Being able to better communicate with robotic systems could improve their effectiveness and lead to improvements in technologies across various industries.

Brain Controlled Robot

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Brain-wave communication may be especially promising for the healthcare field. Healthcare professionals currently use robots for surgical procedures, patient care and even companionship for patients. Improving communication with these systems could make them much more useful.

Robots may be programmed to perform tasks or communicate for people who are nonverbal. With this new technology, even if someone can not speak and is also physically incapacitated, they could still communicate with the robot using just their brain.

Surgeons often use robots to assist with medical procedures. They sometimes employ tiny microbots to repair injuries, deliver medications and locate tumors inside the body. This type of procedure is extremely non-invasive, cuts down on the possibility of human error and could potentially even makes surgeries easier for doctors by avoiding the poor visibility caused by surgical smoke.

The researchers’ system also has the potential to greatly improve prosthetics. Controlling a robotic prosthetic limb with just one’s mind would make it much easier to control and may feel more natural to those who depend on prosthetics.


Driverless vehicle technologies have advanced significantly in recent years, but they’re still susceptible to errors. Human drivers can take over in these situations, but drivers often have just a few seconds to react.

Being able to correct a mistake made by an autonomous vehicle using only brain waves would increase the speed of correcting the mistake because it would require the human driver to take minimal action. Even if an improvement of only a few seconds was achieved, it could make the difference between avoiding an incident and experiencing a crash.

The technology could also allow someone in an autonomous vehicle to more quickly and conveniently customize their experience. They could, for example, tell the computer to alter their route, speed up or slow down and perhaps even change the radio station.


Robots in manufacturing have become increasingly common and more advanced. The robots of yesteryear were large, could only complete one or two specific tasks, couldn’t be used for detailed work and could injure a person if they got too close.

Today’s bots are multi-talented, can work even with minuscule parts and are designed to work collaboratively with humans. Communicating with robots usually requires thinking in a certain way because the robots’ understanding of human interaction was limited. For example, you might have to look at a specific and different light display for each task you wanted the machine to complete.

Communicating through brain waves allows for more much more natural, quick and nuanced communication that’s less tiring and allows for greater control.

Robotics is becoming progressively more integrated into our way of life and increasingly advanced, as is the way we communicate with these machines. This discovery represents an exciting development in the way we communicate with robots that could make them much more effective and lead to innovations in a variety of industries.


By  Kayla MatthewsEmbed

Author Bio - Kayla Matthew is a technology writer and the owner of She is also a regular contributor to VentureBeat, MakeUseOf and Motherboard.


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