First-Ever Successfully Mind Controlled Robotic Arm Without Brain Implants

What it matters:

A brain-computer interface (BCI) has already been successful in controlling a robotic arm. However, researchers have previously used invasive brain implants to do so.

Traditionally BCIs that use noninvasive external sensing, rather than brain implants, received “dirtier” signals, leading to a lower resolution and less precise control.

However, these implants require a substantial amount of medical and surgical expertise to correctly install and operate, not to mention the cost and potential risks to subjects. As such, their use has been limited to just a few clinical cases.

Being able to noninvasively control robotic devices using only thoughts will have a wide range of applications, in particular benefiting the lives of the paralyzed. But the real world possibilities are much broader.

How it works:

Using novel sensing and machine learning techniques the research team has been able to access signals deep within the brain, achieving a high resolution of control than previously possible.

This enhanced framework has overcome the ‘noisy’ electroencephalogram (EEG) signals leading to significantly improve EEG-based sensory information and facilitate real-time continuous robotic device control.

Ask the expert:

Bin He, Trustee Professor and Department Head of Biomedical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University

“There have been major advances in mind-controlled robotic devices using brain implants. It’s excellent science. But noninvasive is the ultimate goal.”

“Using a noninvasive BCI to control a robotic arm that’s tracking a cursor on a computer screen, for the first time ever, has shown human subjects that a robotic arm can now follow the cursor continuously.”

“Whereas robotic arms controlled by humans noninvasively had previously followed a moving cursor in a jerky, discrete motion, as though the robotic arm was trying to “catch up” to the brain’s commands. Now the arm follows the cursor in a smooth, continuous path.”

The details:

This project was supported in part by the American National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, and National Institute of Mental Health.

Carnegie Mellon University ( is a private, internationally ranked university with programs in areas ranging from science, technology and business to public policy, the humanities and the arts.

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