Scientists in Japan have developed robotic hands, which they say can be controlled by the power of thought.
The artificial hands, developed by Yukiyasu Kamitani and colleagues, mimics the movements of a person's real hand, based on real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of their brain activity, reported the online edition of New Scientist.
Researchers from the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto and from the Honda Research Institute in Saitama have previously shown that fMRI scanning can be used to distinguish between simple images that a subject is looking at and thinking about.
In the new discovery, subjects lay inside an MRI scanner and were asked to make "rock, paper, scissor" shapes with their right hand. As they did this, the MRI scanner recorded brain activity during the formation of each shape and fed this data to a connected computer.
After a short training period, the computer was able to recognise the brain activity associated with each shape and command the robotic appendage do the same, it said.
Finally, the robot hand could be made to respond faster than a user's real one.
"The next step for me is to decode faster, even before the person moves their hand, by reading the brain activity related to intention," Kamitani was quoted as saying.
But he admits that fMRI scanning technology must be improved dramatically before this is made possible, and before the system can be used practically.
"We will need several breakthroughs in related technologies, including those for brain scanning hardware, before this type of non-invasive systems will be used in daily life."