The “psychic robot” was created by bio-engineers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Using a mathematical algorithm, the psychic robot can predict what people are about to do by calculating their intentions based on the previous activity, even if their actions were interrupted.
Justin Horowitz, UIC graduate student research assistant and first author of the study, said in a statement: “Say you’re reaching for a piece of paper — and your hand is bumped mid-reach — your eyes take time to adjust, your nerves take time to process what has happened, your brain takes time to process what has happened, and even more time to get a new signal to your hand.”
“So, when something unexpected happens, the signal going to your hand can’t change for at least a 10th of a second — if it changes at all,” Horowitz said.
In the study Horowitz explains:
The robot’s algorithm understands the intent, not the actual movement.
“This is why it doesn’t matter if someone stops doing the action. The bio-engineers are hopeful the technology could be used to help people with prosthetics, or even in cars of the future.”
“If you know how someone is moving and what the disturbance is, you can tell the underlying intent. We could use this algorithm to design machines that could correct the course of a swerving car, or help a stroke patient with spasticity,” Horowitz added.
An example would be: “If we hit a patch of ice and the car starts swerving, we want the car to know where we meant to go. It needs to correct the car’s course, not to where I am now pointed, but [to] where I meant to go,” Horowitz said.
“The computer has extra sensors and processes information so much faster than I can react. If the car can tell where I mean to go, it can drive itself there. But it has to know which movements of the wheel represent my intention, and which are responses to an environment that’s already changed.”
The possible applications for this are endless, but there is one other use the bio-engineers have in mind; “smart” prosthetics.
The algorithm could make it possible for people who suffer from muscle spasms or tremors, such as stroke patients, to complete a movement smoothly.