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WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

As Brain Machine Interfaces improve you’re not going to need to be tethered to a computer.

 

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Brain Machine Interfaces (BMI) have come a long way in the past couple of years letting people download, and stream thoughts to YouTube, upload knowledge directly to their brains Matrix style, helping quadriplegics control exoskeletons and double amputees control neuroprosthetic limbs, and helping paralysed people fly fleets of F-35 fighter jets. They’ve also helped connect pigs to the internet, kind of …

 

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Now though scientists in the US have demonstrated the first wireless BMI interface, something that the bleeding edge US military organisation DARPA have been chasing for years, that can send commands wirelessly to a computer, and it’s a breakthrough for people with paralysis.

Furthermore, bearing in mind that up until now BMI’s have generally involved volunteers and patients being tangled up in all manner of cables and wires, that’s a big development – it’s the equivalent of going from a fixed line internet connection to WiFi … at least.

The new system is also able to transmit brain signals at “single-neuron resolution and in full broadband fidelity,” said researchers at Brown University who developed the technology.

 

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A clinical trial of the BrainGate technology involved a small transmitter that connects to a person’s brain motor cortex, and trial participants with paralysis used the system to control a tablet computer, the journal IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering reports.

The participants were able to achieve similar typing speeds and point-and-click accuracy as they could with wired systems.

“We’ve demonstrated that this wireless system is functionally equivalent to the wired systems that have been the gold standard. The signals are recorded and transmitted with appropriately similar fidelity, which means we can use the same decoding algorithms we used with wired equipment,” said John Simeral, an assistant professor of engineering at Brown, adding, “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.”

 

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It marks the latest advance in the rapidly growing field of neural interface technologies, which has attracted the likes of Facebook and Elon Musk who recently revealed that his Neuralink startup has already tested a wireless chip on a monkey’s brain that allows it to play video games.

In Browns’ case the two paralysed patients, who were aged 35 and 63, were able to use the wireless system continuously for up to 24 hours while at home, rather than in a laboratory.

The relative ease of use meant trained carers were able to established the wireless connections, meaning the study could continue while the pandemic ruled out visits to the participants’ homes.

 

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“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,” said Leigh Hochberg, an engineering professor at Brown University and leader of the BrainGate clinical trial.

About author

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin, described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers” and a “Young Kurzweil,” is the founder and CEO of the World Futures Forum and the 311 Institute, a global Futures and Deep Futures consultancy working between the dates of 2020 to 2070, and is an award winning futurist, and author of “Codex of the Future” series. Regularly featured in the global media, including AP, BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC, Discovery, RT, Viacom, and WIRED, Matthew’s ability to identify, track, and explain the impacts of hundreds of revolutionary emerging technologies on global culture, industry and society, is unparalleled. Recognised for the past six years as one of the world’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew is an international speaker who helps governments, investors, multi-nationals and regulators around the world envision, build and lead an inclusive, sustainable future. A rare talent Matthew’s recent work includes mentoring Lunar XPrize teams, re-envisioning global education and training with the G20, and helping the world’s largest organisations envision and ideate the future of their products and services, industries, and countries. Matthew's clients include three Prime Ministers and several governments, including the G7, Accenture, Aon, Bain & Co, BCG, Credit Suisse, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deloitte, E&Y, GEMS, Huawei, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, Lego, McKinsey, PWC, Qualcomm, SAP, Samsung, Sopra Steria, T-Mobile, and many more.

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