Bungee Jumping Improves Human-Machine Interfaces

The brain activity of bungee jumpers could provide clues for how to turn those cues into commands for robots.

Researchers from the Charité University of Medicine in Berlin are studying the the brains of bungee jumpers to improve human-machine interfaces.

According to the researchers, a bungee jumper experiences a measurable increase in brain activity about one second before he or she decides to jump. The moment is called the “bereitschaftspotential,” or readiness potential. This experiment was the first time the data was successfully captured outside of a lab and in extreme conditions.

The readiness potential is an electrical voltage shift in the brain. It indicates that a voluntary act is imminent, and it occurs before the person is even aware of their conscious decision to execute this movement.

The researchers strapped electrode caps to the bungee jumpers to take readings before they plunged about 630 feet. The two participants made 30 jumps from the Europa Bridge in Austria.

What is interesting about the study is that the brain activity recorded during the bungee jumps was the same as data recorded from jumps from a height of just one meter. That's right, they had both test subjects also jump 30 times from a height of one meter. So, even though you are afraid in the moments before a potentially life-threatening action, the fear doesn't impact the readiness potential.

Next, the data will be used to develop devices that could give paraplegics and stroke survivors a little more freedom by translating brain activity into control commands for robots or other high-tech devices.

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