Mind-controlled robots, imperial storm troopers and potato salad.

20,000 ‘Geek Picnic’ technology fans gather to see how life and technology will merge in the future.

ABB in Russia recently participated in the annual Geek Picnic on Yelagin Island in St. Petersburg, an open air festival that fuses modern technology, science and art. The picnic featured a number of demonstrations designed to change the way people look at technology in ourlives – voice-responsive hovercraft, 3D printers making trendy shoes, and yes – mind controlled robots.

Event video (in Russian)

Geek Picnic visitors donned a special headpiece which transmitted their brain signals to an ABB IRB 120 industrial robot. They were then able to activate a magnet in the robot’s arm to pick up a small metal ball and place it into a wire maze completely by thought.

geek week 2

The technology that makes this innovative link between humans and machines possible is called neurocontrol. A record of electrical brain activity, an electroencephalogram, is connected by a neuro-interface to a computer which digitizes the signal and then converts it into commands for the robot through a special controller. This is made possible through special ABB software that interprets inputs from external devices (including those connected to people) into commands which an industrial robot can understand and follow.

ABB technology experts partnered with the ‘N-Future’ team, made of Psychology Department faculty, students and alumni from Lomonosov Moscow State University, to create the demonstration. The IRB 120 is ABB’s smallest robot, its compact design and six-axis flexibility are well suited to a number of delicate tasks such as electronics assembly, packing food and consumer goods, and clean-room pharmaceutical applications.

The software developer kit that made the experimental demo possible is available today, however it will still be some time before neurocontrol applications such as this are commercially available. But this technology has great potential for a future where people and robots work together closer than ever possible before – imagine combining the experience and judgment of a skilled factory worker with the precision and speed of a robot! And they can work together safer, too. A worker could for example shut off a robot with their mind to inspect or adjust small parts without putting their hands near any moving machinery.

Video – see neurocontrol in action!

ABB is pushing the frontiers of human robot collaboration on many fronts, and just this week introduced a new dual armed robot called YuMi which has human-like bodies and padded arms to ergonomically work in closely with people for tasks like small electronics parts assembly.

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About the author

Philip Lewin

I'm one of the many people sharing ABB's passion and great stories for robotics and industrial ingenu-ity. It’s exciting for me to be at the leading edge of a new age for one of the most fundamental things that people do - we make things. At the same time, the awareness has never been greater that economic progress, higher living standards and new ways of making things cannot come at the expense of our environment. I’m proud to contribute to this exciting and important discussion.
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