How your brainwaves could remotely operate a robotic device

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Mr Daniel Leong, Professor CT Lin, Professor Francesca Iacopi and Mr Sai Singanamalla. Image credit: UTS

A University of Technology Sydney (UTS) project was showcased at the Army Robotics Expo in Brisbane, showing how users can remotely control a robotic vehicle using brainwaves, or electrical signals generated by coordinated neuronic activity in the brain. 

The project, conducted by UTS distinguished Professor CT Lin and Professor Francesca Iacopi, was funded by the Department of Defence via the Defence Innovation Hub open submission process. 

UTS was one of two universities invited to test their technology at the Army Robotics Expo, where Defence staff and industry and academia participants witnessed the technology at work. 

“We were excited to be able to demonstrate the concepts and technology to Army and RAAF personnel, including chief of the Australian Defence Force General Angus Campbell,” Iacopi said. 

The UTS team showed robotic devices moving in the event space without the users using their hands. The intended robot movement was communicated through physiological sensors, which detected and decoded electrical brain signals – or brainwaves – and sent them to the device. 

Iacopi is developing sensors for this project using graphene – a single, thin layer of graphite. The graphene is embedded in silicon wafers to create a material that is highly resilient, biocompatible and conductive for a better prolonged contact with the human skin. 

The project team has been researching the factors that make graphene ideal for technologies that will be worn on the skin in the wide range of climates and environments that are experienced in the Army. 

Iacopi is an internationally recognised expert in nanotechnology and electronic materials and a chief investigator in the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Transformative Meta-Optical Systems. 

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UTS showcases new brain interface technology. Image credit: UTS

Lin is developing the wearable electronics and artificial intelligence algorithms for decoding the brain signals and controlling a robotic device. He is an international expert on brain computer interface and computational intelligence and co-director of the Australian Artificial Intelligence Institute at UTS. 

The opportunity to trial the technology at the Army Robotics Expo gave attendees an insight into the future. At the event, a glass screen was used to display robot navigation information, but this can be transferred to wearable items such as glasses or a helmet visor, Lin said. 

“Currently people use touch to control phones and tablets,” Lin said. 

“In the future, you will have sensors embedded in gear that can detect brain signals and communicate with computers and smart appliances using thought.” 

As well as defence applications, this wearable technology being developed at UTS has significant potential for people with disability. It could facilitate many aspects of daily living, including controlling a wheelchair or operating prosthetics. 

“The project aims to build the capability of our defence forces and our high-tech industries and jobs, with the innovative technology having potential commercial applications across multiple sectors,” Iacopi said. 

This UTS project began in 2020 and is due for completion in 2022. It builds on UTS’ research in AI, robotics and innovative materials.  

Watch an interview with the UTS researchers and the brainwaves demonstration at the Army Robotics Expo and an Army video about this event. 

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