Researchers at Brown University have made the first wireless, implantable, rechargeable brain-computer interface. Humans might be next in line for testing of the device, after 13 months of successful trials in monkeys and pigs.
Made out of hermetically sealed titanium, the new BCI doesn’t have to be attached to a computer, so the wearer doesn’t have to be strapped into a seat and can move about freely. BCIs are often used to aid people who are paralysed or have diminished motor functions by connecting them control of a robotic arm, for example, so it’s important that they don’t have to be strapped into a chair to use this new BCI. Plus, it allows scientists to monitor the brain during more complex tasks. In the case of a monkey, this has come down to things like social activities or foraging.
The device looks a lot like a pacemaker, with a li-lion battery, an inductive charging loop, a chip that digitizes brain information, and an antenna to transmit that info to a computer. ExtremeTech explains what’s inside:
The BCI is connected to a small chip with 100 electrodes protruding from it, which, in this study, was embedded in the somatosensory cortex or motor cortex. These 100 electrodes produce a lot of data, which the BCI transmits at 24Mbps over the 3.2 and 3.8GHz bands to a receiver that is one meter away.
Another critical feature of this portable BCI is it consumes relatively little power (around 100 milliwatts), and it takes just two hours to charge up for six hours of use. That’s key for making the BCI something that people can feasibly use, because a subject could wear it all day without needing to power up. It hasn’t been approved for human use yet, but that might be the ultimate goal, in order to better study people with brain disorders, and help them be more mobile, like the woman Brown equipped to move a soft drink bottle with her mind. [ExtremeTech]