Feeds

US brain-plug interface gets live human trials

Telepathic mouse kit could jumpwire paralysed limbs

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

Boffins in America say that their new "neural interface" brain-plug equipment, intended to let users control computers and machinery merely by thinking, is about to embark on its second stage of clinical trials. The tech is intended initially to help patients suffering from paralysing illness or massive injuries, but has implications beyond the medical field.

The BrainGate neural interface system

Ah, at last the caption I thought of is there.

The kit in question is called BrainGate, and is under development by neuroscience, engineering and computing boffins at Brown University in Rhode Island. It uses a grid of electrodes implanted beneath a user's skull into his or her motor cortex, linked to a "pedestal" assembly atop the cranium. At the moment, this is hooked up by a wired connection to the BrainGate computers which interpret the electrodes' readings from the motor cortex and "turn thought into action" - for instance by moving a cursor on a screen, or operating a cybernetic limb, or directing a motorised wheelchair.

Initial trials have already been carried out, according to the researchers, during which a lot was learned. However the tech is far from fully developed yet, and the second phase of trials - now beginning - is under an "investigational device exemption", meaning that the kit is still at the prototype stage and isn't certified as medically safe. Volunteers using it are acting as guinea pigs, or test pilots, as it were.

The BrainGate team has lofty goals. They note that wired connections are clumsy, and furthermore that the through-the-skin plug assembly presents a risk of infection - a rather serious one, as it penetrates not just the scalp but the skull and the protective meninges covering the brain.

Thus the team aim ultimately to design a fully internal, self-powered wireless brain implant to replace the present skull jack.

Even more impressively, they note that in many cases of paralysis - as opposed to amputation - a patient's limbs are still fully functional. They have simply been "disconnected" from the brain's motor centres by illness or damage to the nerves or spinal cord. The Brown researchers hope to find a way of using their cortical implant to send signals to other implants on undamaged nerves controlling paralysed limbs, effectively attaching jumper leads to bridge the broken nerve connections and restoring the brain's control over the relevant muscles.

In cases where the original limb is gone - the Brown scientists will be working with a lot of injured troops in this trial, as Rhode Island is home to a large US Veterans Administration research hospital - the BrainGate tech could furnish a much better and more instinctive means of controlling prosthetic limbs, powered wheelchairs etc.

Initially the tech will be strictly for medical uses, of course. But if it ever becomes truly safe and convenient to use, it isn't hard to imagine people choosing voluntarily to have a BrainGate interface implanted into their heads simply for convenience. It would confer abilities roughly equivalent to telepathy and clairvoyance right off, particularly if combined with some kind of feedback mechanism - video specs, perhaps, or an equivalent of BrainGate attached to the optic nerve instead. In a sufficiently wired and automated world, it would also be effectively telekinetic: unlocking doors, turning lights or machines on and off, handling computers etc.

Ultimately, people might choose to dispense with their flimsy, unreliable fleshy bodies and move instead to a more fulfilling and powerful life as chipped-up brains in bubbling jars - either moving around aboard robotic vehicles, or leading a vicarious existence via the future interwebs.

“We are entering a new age of neurotechnology," says John Donoghue, professor of neuroscience at Brown. There's more on the BrainGate project here. ®

Remote control for virtualized desktops

More from The Register

next story
Voyager 1 now EIGHTEEN LIGHT HOURS from home
Almost 20 BEEELION kilometres from Sol
Ex-Soviet engines fingered after Antares ROCKET launch BLAST
Speculation rife, but Orbital claims it's too early to tell
MEN: For pity's sake SLEEP with LOTS of WOMEN - and avoid Prostate Cancer
And, um, don't sleep with other men. If that's what worries you
Jim Beam me up, Scotty! WHISKY from SPAAACE returns to Earth
They're insured for $1m, before you thirsty folks make plans
ROGUE SAIL BOAT blocks SPACE STATION PODULE blastoff
Er, we think our ISS launch beats your fishing expedition
NASA: Spacecraft crash site FOUND ON MOON RIM
'What fun!' exlaims NASA boffin who found the LADEE
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
BAE points electromagnetic projectile at US Army
Railguns for 'Future fighting vehicle'
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Simplify SSL certificate management across the enterprise
Simple steps to take control of SSL across the enterprise, and recommendations for a management platform for full visibility and single-point of control for these Certificates.