Opening a car trunk or controlling a home air conditioner could become just a wish away with Honda's new technology that connects thoughts inside a brain with robotics.
Honda Motor Co. has developed a way to read patterns of electric currents on a person's scalp as well as changes in cerebral blood flow when a person thinks about four simple movements — moving the right hand, moving the left hand, running and eating.
Honda succeeded in analyzing such thought patterns, and then relaying them as wireless commands for Asimo, its human-shaped robot.
In a video shown Tuesday at Tokyo headquarters, a person wearing a helmet sat still but thought about moving his right hand — a thought that was picked up by cords attached to his head inside the helmet.
After several seconds, Asimo, programmed to respond to brain signals, lifted its right arm.
Honda said the technology wasn't quite ready for a live demonstration because of possible distractions in the person's thinking. Another problem is that brain patterns differ greatly among individuals, and so about two to three hours of studying them in advance are needed for the technology to work.
The company, a leader in robotics, acknowledged the technology was still at a basic research stage with no immediate practical applications in the works.
Practical uses 'still way into the future'
"I'm talking about dreams today," said Yasuhisa Arai, executive at Honda Research Institute Japan Co., the company's research unit. "Practical uses are still way into the future."
Japan boasts one of the leading robotics industries in the world, and the government is pushing to develop the industry as a road to growth.
Research on the brain is being tackled around the world, but Honda said its research was among the most advanced in figuring out a way to read brain patterns without having to hurt the person, such as embedding sensors into the skin.
Honda has made robotics a centrepiece of its image, sending Asimo to events and starring the walking, talking robot in TV ads. Among the challenges for the brain technology is to make the reading device smaller so it can be portable, according to Honda.
Arai didn't rule out the possibility of a car that may someday drive itself — even without a steering wheel.
"Our products are for people to use. It is important for us to understand human behaviour," he said. "We think this is the ultimate in making machines move."