By: Chris O'Shea
Somewhere, James Cameron is smiling. No, not because he's so rich he could buy a tiny island and populate it with nothing but puppies and pizzerias. Because his movie, Avatar, is closer to reality than anyone ever thought possible, thanks to an Israeli student named Tirosh Shapira.
Even if you haven't seen Avatar, you likely already know what it's about. Scientists in the future use avatars — genetically modified beings — to interact with aliens on a planet. They do this even though they are far away, and one is a paraplegic former Marine. Oh, and yes, everything is blue. By backing up a bit, we see where Shapira intersects with Avatar: He controlled a robot using only his mind.
Shapira, sitting inside something called a "functional magnetic resonance imaging" machine (basically an EEG scanner on steroids) was in Israel, the robot that he controlled was 1,250 miles away, in France. The fMRI read Shapira's thoughts by scanning the blood flow in his brain. That's impressive, but even more so is that Shapira first had to train his brain to operate a certain way, so that the robot would understand a specific pattern related to a specific command. Shapira then thought a specific way, and the robot moved forward, backward and moved its hands. The robot was also equipped with a camera, so that Shapira could see what the robot was seeing, and thus, a completely unified experience.
“It was mind-blowing," Shapira told The New Scientist. "I really felt like I was there, moving around." Perhaps a little too much. "At one point the connection failed," continued Shapira. "One of the researchers picked the robot up to see what the problem was and I was like, 'Oi, put me down!'" Yeah, we would call this a complete connection.
The revelation by Shapira is likely to leave more people than just James Cameron smiling. The government is surely aware of the situation. If it could send mind controlled robots into battle instead of soldiers, it would be quite a PR move. And that probably has military equipment manufacturers licking their chops. Imagine how much money could be made making these robots?
The discovery could also help those who are fully functioning in their brains, but not their bodies. That would change the world of so many people who are either disabled or have lost legs or limbs to accidents or whatever.
Shapira's robot is just the beginning, but the fact that it worked will impact our world for many years to come. And you can bet Cameron is already planning Avatar 37.
[Pic via Flickr - Jiuguang Wang]