Scientists have developed a robot that can be controlled through mind scans. They hope that the robot could be used to create avatars for people with locked-in syndrome or other conditions that do not allow for movement of the body.

In the experiment, Tirosh Shapira, a student in Israel, was scanned using a fMRI machine in a laboratory in Bar-llan University in Israel. His scans operated a robot in a different laboratory, thousands of miles away, at Bazier Technology Institute in France.

An fMRI machine – or, a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine – examines blood supply to different areas of the brain. Different areas are associated with different functions, like language or, for the purposes of the experiment, movement.

He could also see through the eyes of his robot surrogate.

Other attempts at controlling robot movement had been through various means, like joysticks. In contrast, this method aims to make the operator think that they are embodied by the robot.

For the experiment, they gave Shapira a mirror to see his robot self, causing him to believe that he was, in fact, in the laboratory in France.

Before connecting the pair, researchers asked Shapira to think of various movements. They then developed software that could quickly identify his purpose. The result was that he could control the robot almost in real time.

Researchers hope to further their technology by creating a skull cap that can recreate the successes of the fMRI machine. That way, subjects can control their robots without needing to lie down in the fMRI machine. They also would like to upgrade the humanoid robot to more a sophisticated one that can match the size and gait of a human being.

The research is part of an international project called the Virtual Embodiment and Robot Re-Embodiment Project, or VERE.