Noninvasive Brain Implant Lets Thoughts Control Prosthetic Limbs
CREDIT: Euisik Yoon, University of Michigan
Communicating with a computer using nothing but a thought seems like a great- time saver, but those "Matrix"-style jacks that bore directly into the skull sure look uncomfortable. Luckily, a new device has led researchers to believe that people will able to use their brains to control artificial body parts within a few years, and all without any kind of bone-shattering implantation.
Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a noninvasive, low-power brain implant that could lead to several new technologies in the future, including the neural manipulation of prosthetic limbs. This could allow amputees and paralysis victims to move plastic or metal arms and legs with their minds.
The implant, titled BioBolt after its boltlike shape, can be inserted directly into the skull without penetrating the brain's cortex. Unlike other neural implants, which typically require a patient's skull to remain open during use, the BioBolt is designed for realistic applications – the implant fits above the skull and is completely covered by a layer of skin, keeping it completely unobtrusive and practical for everyday use.
In addition to allowing people to move prosthetic or plastic arms using their brains, the BioBolt could help doctors diagnose diseases such as epilepsy, according to Euisik Yoon, a Michigan professor and the principal investigator on this project. Because the procedure it uses is minimally invasive, Yoon says the BioBolt will be far safer and more efficient than other technologies that are currently available.
"It can be extremely low-power by using the skin as a conductor," Yoon told Innovation News Daily, explaining that the device interprets neuron signals from the brain and passes them to an external computer by way of the skin.
"We can move their prosthetics or plastic arms via signal," Yoon said. "[O]r identify the location of [epileptic] seizures with this minimally invasive procedure."
Still, Yoon admits the BioBolt is still in its infancy stages. The team still has a lot of testing ahead of them before they start using the device for practical purposes. Yoon said the team plans to experiment with BioBolt on primates in the near future.
So will people be able to move artificial body parts using their minds any time soon? Yoon said while it may be very possible, we'll likely have to wait at least another few years.
"That's down the road," Yoon said. "It's not gonna happen tomorrow."