“Sewing machine” for the brain: a new frontier in BCI

Home Human enhancement "Sewing machine" for the brain: a new frontier in BCI

It seems that the Elon Musk’s dream, started with the founding of Neuralink, is taking significant steps forward. Musk has strongly hoped for the development of an effective man-machine collaboration. He strongly believes it is the only defense weapon for humanity against a possible windfall of super-intelligent machines. A fear that he has expressed more than once.

The study has been described in an unpublished academic paper that includes five researchers as authors who have previously worked for Musk. This research outlines a way to quickly implant an electrical wiring in the brain. The process is an important step towards a potential system to connect the human brain directly to computers.

Credits: https://medium.com/startup-grind/the-implications-of-neuralink-1409fa277487

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) also immediately showed interest in the research, providing $ 2.1 million of financial support to the University of California at San Francisco. The greatest part of the work was carried out in collaboration with a laboratory in Berkeley.

Although more research is needed to refine the overall interface system and better integrate its components, these developments may ultimately open the possibility of bundling next-generation robotics, AI software and electronics to create alternatives to present-day neurosurgical techniques.

~ Justin Sanchez, the director of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office

A “sewing machine” for the brain

Thus the new system was defined, still in the testing phase, which involves removing a fraction of the skull and then inserting a single needle that sends flexible electrodes into the brain tissue.

Scientists have worked for years on how to place electrodes in the brain causing the least damage possible. One of the main challenges was the creation of highly flexible electrodes that can move together with the brain but are rigid enough to be inserted at the right spot.

Credits: www.bloomberg.com

In fact, the new electrodes are flexible, thin and a few millimeters long. The “machine” inserts an electrode every few seconds much faster than other methods. There is a small printed circuit board to complete the system located in the back of the head to record the signals from the brain.

But it’s not all roses

The tests were carried out on adult Long-Evans male rats, a common subject used in laboratories. However, researchers have found many difficulties.

First, such thin electrodes are not easy to place. Once positioned they didn’t show consistency over time. Only one rat with two dozen implanted electrodes was monitored for two months. Another problem was the cards placed on top of the heads of the mice: they were unstuck after a few weeks. Furthermore, experiments sometimes caused minor tissue damage.

Possible applications

This technique is still light years away from being tested on humans, but the findings could help scientists better understand the most enigmatic organ we have: the brain.

Musk most likely will be able to help people who have suffered severe brain injury developing this technology by 2021. It would also allow patients with Parkinson’s disease, memory loss or other neurological disorders.


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Heidi Garciahttps://systemscue.it
Graduate in Computer Engineering at the University of Florence. Editor-in-chief of the Systems: Informatica e Tecnologia su CuE section in the Close-up Engineering network and executive member of EUROAVIA Pisa. Great passion for aerospace, astronomy and electronics.


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