Wheelchair and robotic arm controlled by thought

A wheelchair and a mounted robotic arm controlled by thought alone has been created by scientists at the University of South Florida.

The device could give people with amytrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or full body paralysis the ability to perform simple day to day functions that would otherwise be impossible.

"We aren't reading people's thoughts," said Redwan Alqasemi, a scientist at the University of South Florida who, along with Rajiv Dubey and Emanuel Donchin of USF, helped develop the software and hardware. "This is the first time a person with severe disabilities like ALS can perform daily activities for themselves."

In this case, the scientists monitor a particular brain wave called P300, so-called because it lasts about one-third of a second. Reading P300 waves is basically like reading a person's thoughts, but only in the most coarse kind of way.

For the wheelchair and or mounted robotic arm, the person in the wheelchair looks at directional arrows flashing across a small screen. When the arrow points in the direction that they want to go, their brain lights up on the EEG, and the wheelchair or robotic arm moves accordingly.

This doesn't happen at the speed of thought, however. Turning the wheelchair or moving the robotic arm takes about seven seconds as the arrows cycle across the screen. The wheel chair or arm continues in that direction until it receives a new command.