Bruce Willis’ Surrogates is not just a Hollywood flop anymore, thanks to the Virtual Embodiement and Robotic Re-embodiement (VERE) program it is now a reality. Using a fMRI machine, Tirosh Shapira teleoperated a humanoid robot from roughly 2000 miles away. The small robot relayed the info back to him in a live first person experience. So this isn’t “kinda” like the tech in Surrogates but with joysticks or software that tracks eye movement, this is the real deal.
A fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machine works by accurately tracking the movement of blood through the brain as a method measure brain activity. According to Extremetech.com, in order to map the controls of the robot to Shapira’s thoughts, he first ran through a series of tests to determine what brain areas were activated by thinking about moving in various directions. Once they had successfully mapped his particular thought patterns to the controls, he was then able to operate the robot simply by thinking about it. The robot’s actions were displayed through eye level cameras that fed back to a monitor directly in front Shapira as he lay in the fMRI machine.
While it is one of their goals, the VERE project is not just aimed at controlling robotic surrogates for paraplegics, they are also looking to use the same technology to control interactions in virtual spaces as well. The next step for them could be the one that creates the virtual landscape proposed in cyberpunk fiction that allows you to interact with your own virtual world using a thought controlled avatar. So far, the biggest limiting factor to putting this tech into every household is the whole issue of fMRI machines costing around a million dollars a piece.
While helping paraplegics interact with the world is nice and all, I can’t wait for some more…entertainment based applications of this technology. How much more exciting would a football game be if all of the players were two ton transformers outfitted with chainsaws and flamethrowers? If that sounds like a recipe for pure awesome to you, that’s only because it is.