Does anyone remember the 2009 blockbuster film Avatar (the second highest grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation)? Well in the film, humans can control the body of an alien by remotely transmitting the human consciousness into another biological creature. Well, researchers from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have developed a way to control other biological creatures with our thoughts, namely turtles. Think of it as sort of a real life but very scaled down version of the Avatar concept.
The team used a Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) to translate the brain waves into commands that will control the movement of the turtle. KAIST wrote in a press release, “Unlike previous research that has tried to control animal movement by applying invasive methods, most notably in insects, Professors Phill-Seung Lee of the Mechanical Engineering Department and Sungho Jo of the Computing School propose a conceptual system that can guide an animal’s moving path by controlling its instinctive escape behavior.”
The team took advantage of the fact that turtles are instinctively drawn towards sources of light. They were able to harvest this instinctive impulse by putting a semi-cylindrical object that can block light onto the turtle’s back; Humans can then turn this light on or off using their thoughts, hence allowing them to guide the turtle’s movement.
Source: Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology
The BCI setup has 2 main parts: The one human controller setup and the turtle’s setup. The human setup consists of a head mounted display integrated with BCI technology, whilst the turtle’s setup, which the team dubbed the “cyborg system”, is made out of a camera, Wi-Fi transceiver, a computer-control module, and a battery attached to the turtle’s shell.
This technology is still very far off from ever allowing us to control biological alien life forms, but it’s sure at least the first step there. For now though, this system could be quite useful for real world applications, such as using it for the improvement of augmented and virtual reality technology, the enhancement of global positioning systems (GPS), and maybe even military surveillance.
The research team had emphasized on the versatility of this technology, wherein they demonstrated the BCI and the “cyborg system” on a variety of situations and environments, like getting turtles to move indoors and outdoors, guiding turtles to move on gravel and grassy lands, and even controlling them to tackle obstacles like shallow water and trees, truly making it useful for military use.