Baxter is a robot developed in 2012 by Rethink Robotics, the project of former CSAIL director Rodney Brooks. Now a research team from Boston University and MIT’s CSAIL have successfully enabled Baxter to interpret and obey brain waves in real time. It’s a step toward smoother control of, and coexistence with, robots: being able to remotely take action, by simply thinking “no.”
Their setup gave Baxter a simple sorting task and a human judge wearing an EEG cap. Baxter was tasked with sorting things into two bins correctly. When it made a mistake, the human judge was asked to “mentally disagree” with it. The electrical signals generated in the human’s brain by the act of disagreeing are called error-related potentials (ErrPs, which is clearly pronounced like GURPS). The EEG cap picked up the disagreement brain waves and relayed them on to the robot, which would then second-guess itself and correct its sort.
“Imagine being able to instantaneously tell a robot to do a certain action, without needing to type a command, push a button or even say a word,” says CSAIL Director Daniela Rus. “A streamlined approach like that would improve our abilities to supervise factory robots, driverless cars, and other technologies we haven’t even invented yet.”