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Home / Technology / The world’s first wireless brain computer interface has been successfully tested on the human brain

The world’s first wireless brain computer interface has been successfully tested on the human brain



The first system of wireless brain-computer interface (BCI) not only gives people with paralysis the ability to type on computer screens with their heads, but the innovation also gives them the freedom to do it anywhere.

Traditional BCIs are tied to a large transmitter with long cables, but a team from Brown University has cut the wires and replaced them with a small transmitter that sits on the user’s head.

The redesigned equipment is only two inches in diameter and connects to an electrode array in the brain’s motor cortex using the same port used by wired systems.

The experiments, called BrainGate, ‘showed that two men paralyzed by back injuries were able to write and click on a tablet just by thinking about the action, and did so with similar point-and-click accuracy and typing speeds as those with a wired system.

A participant in the BrainGate clinical trial uses wireless transmitters that replace the cables normally used to transmit signals from sensors inside the brain.  The experiments allowed men with back injuries were able to type and click on a tablet just by thinking about the action

A participant in the BrainGate clinical trial uses wireless transmitters that replace the cables normally used to transmit signals from sensors inside the brain. The experiments allowed men with back injuries were able to type and click on a tablet just by thinking about the action

The innovation is similar to BCI Elon Musk’s Neuralink is evolving, which is also a wireless device implanted in the brain.

Musk’s technology, however, is not visible as BrainGate, but has only been tested on monkeys and pigs – BrainGate is the first to conduct successful human trials.

John Simeral, an assistant professor of engineering at Brown University, a member of the BrainGate research consortium and lead author of the study, said: ‘We have shown that this wireless system is functionally equivalent to the wired systems that have been the gold standard in BCI performance for years. ‘

The signals are recorded and transmitted with appropriate similarity, which means that we can use the same decoding algorithms that we used with wired equipment.

The redesigned equipment is only two inches in diameter and connects to an electrode array in the brain's motor cortex using the same port used by wired systems.

The redesigned equipment is only two inches in diameter and connects to an electrode array in the brain’s motor cortex using the same port used by wired systems.

The innovation is similar to BCI Elon Musk's Neuralink (pictured) is evolving, which is also a wireless device implanted in the brain.  Musk's technology, however, is not visible as BrainGate, but has only been tested on monkeys and pigs

The innovation is similar to BCI Elon Musk’s Neuralink (pictured) is evolving, which is also a wireless device implanted in the brain. Musk’s technology, however, is not visible as BrainGate, but has only been tested on monkeys and pigs

‘The only difference is that people no longer need to be physically tied to our equipment, which opens up new possibilities for how the system can be used.’

The trial participants included a 35-year-old man and a 63-year-old man who are both paralyzed from spinal cord injuries.

Each was able to use BCI in their homes, compared to previous work that had to be done in a laboratory.

Unlimited with cables, participants were able to use BCI continuously for up to 24 hours, which gave the researchers data over a longer period of time, including while participants slept.

Leigh Hochberg, an engineering professor at Brown, a researcher at Brown’s Carney Institute for Brain Science and head of BrainGate’s clinical trials, said: ‘We want to understand how neural signals evolve over time.’

‘With this system we can look at brain activity at home over long periods of time in a way that was almost impossible before.

Unlimited with cables, participants were able to use BCI continuously for up to 24 hours, which gave the researchers data over a longer period of time, including while participants slept.  Pictured is an earlier version of BCI that included a long cable

Unlimited with cables, participants were able to use BCI continuously for up to 24 hours, which gave the researchers data over a longer period of time, including while participants slept. Pictured is an earlier version of BCI that included a long cable

‘This will help us design decoding algorithms that ensure seamless, intuitive, reliable restoration of communication and mobility for people with paralysis.’

The latest study builds the researcher’s first BrainGate studies, which started in 2012, but used a wired system to allow participants to manipulate dentures by thinking about a specific movement.

That work has been followed by a steady stream of improvements to the system, as well as new clinical breakthroughs that have enabled people to type on computers, use tablet apps and even move their paralyzed limbs.

Study co-author Sharlene Flesher, who was a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford and now an Apple hardware engineer, said: fully implanted, high-performance neural interfaces, ‘

‘When the field is moving towards reducing transmitted bandwidth while maintaining the accuracy of assistive technology control, this study may be one of the few that captures the full width of cortical signals for extended periods, including during practical BCI use.


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