Researchers at Brown University have built the first implantable brain interface for controlling computers wirelessly. The device has successfully been implanted in the brains of three pigs and three rhesus monkeys.
Arto Nurmikko, professor of engineering at Brown University compares the device to a cell phone with a conversation that is sent out from the brain wirelessly. It looks like a miniature sardine can with a porthole, but inside that laser-welded, hermetically sealed titanium can is a pill-sized chip of electrodes that is implanted onto the brain’s cortex.
Nurmikko tells Popular Science:
“Listening to brain signals and transmitting them requires a very specific type of electronic circuitry. It’s very different from what you and I are using right now talking to each other,” he told me (over the phone). “We have to be ready to capture all sorts of points of finesse in that neural code, and that requires really tailor-made microelectronics.”
Also inside the titanium box is a signal processing system, a lithium ion battery, ultralow-power integrated circuits, a wireless radio, infrared transmitters, and a copper coil for wireless induction charging. The device transmits data at 24 Mbps and takes two hours to charge. It uses less than 100 milliwatts of power.
John Donoghue, the Wriston Professor of Neuroscience at Brown calls it the “next step in providing a practical brain-computer interface.”
Brain liquids are corrosive in much the same way sea water is, so before the interface can be approved for human trials, scientists have to demonstrate that it remains stable in animal tests. So far, it has worked effectively for 16-months in the 6 animals being used for the research.
Initially, data gathered from the device will help scientists understand what kinds of singles the brain produces when an animal is in motion. That research can’t be done using wired electrodes connected to the brain. Wires running from a monkey brain to a computer prevent natural mobility.
It is already possible for people to control external devices with wired connections to their brains. This technology will hopefully lead to wirelessly controlling external devices completely with thoughts.