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NEWS
Mathematical Algorithm ‘Psychic Robot’ Developed
November 4, 2015

Bioengineers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) have recently developed a unique mathematical algorithm that can “see” your intention while performing an ordinary action like reaching for a cup or driving straight up a road — even if the action is interrupted.

The study is published online in the journal “PLOS ONE”.

“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,” said Justin Horowitz, UIC graduate student research assistant and first author of the study.

“So, when something unexpected happens, the signal going to your hand can’t change for at least a tenth of a second — if it changes at all,” Horowitz said.

In a first test of this concept, Horowitz employed exactly the scenario he described — he analyzed the movement of research subjects as they reached for an object on a virtual desk, but had their hand pushed in the wrong direction. He was able to develop an advanced mathematical algorithm that analyzed the action and estimated the subject’s intent, even when there was a disturbance and no subsequent follow through.

The algorithm can predict the way you wanted to move, according to your intention, Horowitz said. The car’s artificial intelligence would use the algorithm to bring the car’s course more in line with what the driver wanted to do.

“The computer has extra sensors and processes information so much faster than I can react,” Horowitz explained. “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.”

“We call it a psychic robot,” Horowitz said. “If you know how someone is moving and what the disturbance is, you can tell the underlying intent — which means we could use this algorithm to design machines that could correct the course of a swerving car or help a stroke patient with spasticity.”

James Patton, professor of bioengineering, is principal investigator on the “PLOS ONE” article. The study was performed at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and a grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

This article reprinted from materials provided by the University of Illinois at Chicago.


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