This Tech From UTS Could Be the Next Step in Controlling Robots With Our Brains

This Tech From UTS Could Be the Next Step in Controlling Robots With Our Brains
Image: Sony

Researchers at The University of Technology Sydney have developed an innovative new biosensor that could change how we interact with technology.

The biosensor relies on electrical signals sent out by the brain, which are translated to the movements of autonomous robotic systems – systems that don’t necessarily need to be touched by the user, but could be controlled by the brain and brain signals.

Basically, the user could control machinery through thoughts. It’s a neat idea and could mean a lot for the future of accessibility.

“We’ve been able to combine the best of graphene, which is very biocompatible and very conductive, with the best of silicon technology, which makes our biosensor very resilient and robust to use,” says Professor Francesca lacopi, the leader of the research team.

“This means the electric signals being sent by the brain can be reliably collected and then significantly amplified and that the sensors can also be used reliably in harsh conditions, thereby enhancing their potential for use in brain-machine interfaces.”

How it would work is like this: the sensor, made of layers of thin carbon and silicon-carbide-on-silicon substrate, sits on the skin in a place where it can detect brain impulses – on the face. Those impulses are translated by the sensor, which sends the translated impulses through to the tech being controlled, which operates as the messages have encoded.

Biosensors aren’t new tech, but previously graphene-based biosensors have been used in single-use applications, where delamination is a big issue, due to the sweat and moisture from the skin.

The UTS biosensor, on the other hand, can be used multiple times over without risk of delamination, even in high saline environments. It also improves upon contact resistance, which is when less than perfect contact between the skin and the sensor makes electrical signal detection harder.

UTS biosensor
Professor Francesca lacopi. Image: UTS

“With our sensor, the contact resistance improves when the sensor sits on the skin,” Professor lacopi added.

“Over time, we were able to achieve a reduction of more than 75 per cent of the initial contact resistance.

“This means the electric signals being sent by the brain can be reliably collected and then significantly amplified and that the sensors can also be used reliably in harsh conditions, thereby enhancing their potential for use in brain-machine interfaces.”

This research was funded by the Australian Government Defence Innovation Hub through a $1.2 million grant, as a part of a larger study into how brainwaves can be used to control autonomous vehicles.

UTS says that a successful version of this biosensor could have defence environment applications and beyond. If you’d like to read more about this biosensor, it has appeared in the Journal of Neural Engineering.