Brain-computer interface is an emerging field in bioengineering and technology, which allows people to control computers with their thoughts. While this concept has been under trial in recent years, previous BCI devices have required wire cables to transmit information, making them uncomfortable and bulky. BrainGate is a company that works with assistive devices that can help paralyzed patients regain their independence. Recently they introduced a new BCI device that can transmit neuronal signals just as efficiently as the previous devices – and it’s wireless.
In a study published in the IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, authors described a clinical trial with two participants. Both patients suffered from tetraplegia due to spinal cord injuries. Using the wireless technology, they were able to to point, click and type on a computer with almost similar accuracy and speed as in wired devices.
How Does the Device Work?
Although wireless BCI technology already exists, none had such success in accurately transmitting data from the brain to the external device. BrainGate’s system uses high bandwidth to transmit neuronal signals at “single-neuron resolution” in full fidelity.
John Simeral, assistant professor of engineering (research) at Brown University, member of the BrainGate research consortium, and the study’s lead author said:
“We’ve demonstrated 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 appropriately similar fidelity, which means we can use the same decoding algorithms we used with wired equipment. The only difference is that people no longer need to be physically tethered to our equipment, which opens up new possibilities in terms of how the system can be used.”
Benefits of a wireless BCI
The wireless device has enabled researchers to collect data for a longer time period than before. The participants were able to continue using the device at home, even while sleeping. This was an unexpected benefit during the COVID pandemic since participants were able to continue the trial at home without the need for technicians to manage the wires.
According to Leigh Hochberg, an engineering professor at Brown, a researcher at Brown’s Carney Institute for Brain Science, and leader of the BrainGate clinical trial,
“We want to understand how neural signals evolve over time. With this system, we’re able to look at brain activity, at home, over long periods in a way that was nearly impossible before. This will help us to design decoding algorithms that provide for the seamless, intuitive, reliable restoration of communication and mobility for people with paralysis.”
Recently, Elon Musk’s BCI Neuralink also made waves after he revealed that they had implanted the device in a monkey’s brain, enabling it to play computer games with its thoughts.
Source: Brown University