Next Big Thing

3 Brain to Computer Connections that Will Blow Your Mind Oct 10, 2015

Sensors that can receive signals from the brain is nothing new, but being able to interpret those signals is an amazingly difficult process. Sending signals into the brain that translate into usable information is on another level of difficulty. Here are three recent advancements in computer-brain interfaces that will blow your mind.

1) Direct spinal stimulation – A team of scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles have developed a robotic exoskeleton that can help 39-year-old Mark Pollock, who was paralyzed in 2010, walk with minimal assistance. While some exoskeletons lock the passenger in and carry them along passively, the UCLA system stimulates the spine directly to trigger the patient’s muscles. This approach means that the patients can control their own leg muscles voluntarily as walk with minimal support from the device.

The system runs on a battery-powered bionic suit what was built by the California-based company Ekso Bionics. Looking a little like Iron Man, the exoskeleton lets people move their own legs in a step-like fashion. On top of that, the attachment is completely non-invasive The spinal stimulation technique requires people to relearn how to stimulate their voluntary leg movements, but it is a small price to pay to achieve self-mobility without the need for surgery. The suit collects data that can determine how much the person is moving their limbs and how much the device is performing. As the individual practices with the suit, they can rely less and less on the suit.

2) Mind-controlled prosthetic hand with a sense of touch – DARPA is unsurpassed in funding cutting edge technology and prosthesis for injured veterans are particularly advanced. Two recent project demonstrated a mind-controlled prosthetic hand that provided the wearer with a sense of touch.

The team first designed a prosthetic hand that could be controlled through the thoughts of the wearer. They gleaned massive amounts of data through their research and realized that they could apply this same techniques they used to read the thoughts of the wearer coming from the motor cortex. Using similar techniques, they were able to read the patterns of the sensory cortex of the brain and feed data from torque sensors on the hand back into it.

This combination of brain controlled movement and feedback, will allow amputees or quadriplegics to perform precise movements that require both touch feedback and movement.

Using the device a 28-year-old volunteer, who had been paralyzed by a spinal injury said that he had a near natural sensation “as if his own hand were being touched.” The response was so accurate that the volunteer was nearly always able to report which finger on the prosthetic hand was being touched.

At one point the researchers tried to fool the volunteer when they touched two fingers at the same time. He responded by asking if “somebody was trying to play a trick on him.”

3) Computer assisted telepathic link – Researches took an important step toward establishing a telepathic link between individuals last week when scientists at the University of Washington established the first collaborative brain-to-brain connection over the Internet.

To test the connection an experiment was devised that placed a pair of participants in rooms that were a mile apart on the UW campus and connected them through skull caps and computers. They were then required to guess what the other person was thinking of by playing a game of 20 questions.

The skull caps of both participants were connected to EEG machines. The signal from the first was sent to the second individual who also wore an electronic coil that controlled the visual cortex.

When the second participant asked a question, the first wold respond “yes” by looking into a flashlight. If the answer was “no” the first participant wouldn’t send any signal.

When the “yes” signal was sent, it produce a visual disruption in the recipient who was wearing the magnetic coil. UW assistant professor Andrea Stocco said that he, “consistently saw lines. Some saw lightning bolts, blobs or shapes.”

The results of the experiment were asounding with participants guessing the correct answer correctly an astounding 72 percent of the time. When they did quess correctly, participants accurately detected a yes answer for 90 percent of the questions.

The control games ended successfully only 18 percent of the time, by comparison.

UW researchers claim that this is one of the first experiments, which shows that two brains can be directly linked together. They hope to hone the accuracy of the communication by allowing participants to send various shapes from one person to another.

Innovations like these may not allow patients to walk without assistance, or communicate particularly useful information yet, but they represent innovative progress toward allowing individuals who have lost abilities to recover lost body functions and provide new levels of independence.