There are many ways to control a robot. You can code it, or manipulate it with a touchscreen or a joystick. Robots can even teach themselves new tricks with machine learning. But now, researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Boston University have added a new way: Thinking with your brain.
The researchers have created a feedback system that reads a person’s brain responses while watching a robot at work. If the robot makes a mistake that the person recognizes, the robot is sent a signal to correct its error. They shared their findings in a study released today.
No one presses a button or utters a word.
To communicate telepathically with machines, the researchers have the human operator wear an EEG cap that can record her brain activity. Then, in real time, the robot receives her brain signal and can change the way it operates.
The research team, led by the MIT’s lab director Daniela Rus and BU professor Frank Guenther, found that they could detect when a person had a thought that the robot had made an error by tracking brain signals called “error-related potentials,” called ErrPs. ErrPs are generated when we notice a mistake — they’re faint electrical signals that the EEG cap can pick up on, classify and send as feedback to the mistaken machine to correct itself.
If the brain doesn’t transmit an ErrP signal, the robot continues to do its job as it was before.
In the video, the robot-human telepathy only works with a simple scenario that has two possible outcomes. But the researchers hope to one day refine the system so the interface can grok more complex tasks.
This isn’t the first time researchers have tinkered with EEG-controlled robotics, but previous attempts required the human operator to think in a particular way that the computer could understand.
“As you watch the robot, all you have to do is mentally agree or disagree with what it is doing,” said Rus in a statement. “You don’t have to train yourself to think in a certain way — the machine adapts to you, and not the other way around.”
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.