Mind over Machine

Rajesh Rao,sent a brain signal to his colleague Andrea Stocco,causing Stocco’s finger to move on the keyboard.

Published: September 8, 2013 5:43:44 am

If Internet can connect computers,why not brains? Scientists,including one of Indian origin,conducted the world’s first non-invasive human-to-human brain interface in which one person was able to control the motions of another person via Internet. Using electrical brain recordings and a form of magnetic stimulation,Rajesh Rao,professor at University of Washington,sent a brain signal to his colleague Andrea Stocco,causing Stocco’s finger to move on the keyboard (right). Here’s how:

BRAINGATE

What?

In May 2012,a 58-year-old woman known only as S3,who lost the use of her limbs after a brain stem stroke nearly 15 years ago,took a sip of coffee from a flask by guiding a robotic arm with her thoughts.

This was the first time she picked up anything after the stroke left her paralysed and unable to speak.

How?

A pill-sized device is surgically implanted a few millimetres into the motor cortex on the surface of the brain,which controls movement,where its 96 hair-thin electrodes pick up the patient’s neural activity.

This was part of a US clinical trial of an experimental implant in the brain,called BrainGate,that doctors see as the first step towards devices that can bypass damage to the nervous system and allow paralysed people to regain control of their limbs or amputees to move prosthetics.

What’s new?

This is the first demonstration of an implant that directly controls a robotic arm by sensing and decoding brain signals.

BRAIN-TO-BRAIN Interface

How it works

* Rao sat in his lab wearing a cap with electrodes hooked up to an an EEG machine.

* Across the campus,a magnetic stimulation coil was placed over Stocco’s left motor cortex,which controls hand movement.

* The two were connected on Skype but neither could see the Skype windows.

* Rao looked at a computer screen and played a video game with his mind. When he was to fire a cannon at a target,he imagined moving his right hand (being careful not to actually move it),causing a cursor to hit “fire”.

* Almost instantaneously Stocco,who wasn’t looking at the computer screen,involuntarily moved his right index finger to push the space bar,as if firing the cannon.

* This technology only allows some kinds of brain signals to be read,not a person’s thoughts. And it won’t give anyone the ability to control actions.

Connecting rats’ brains

What?

At Duke University Medical Centre,US Professor Miguel Nicolelis connected the brains of lab rats,allowing one to communicate directly with another via cables.

How?

Researchers first trained pairs of rats in Feb 2013 to solve a simple problem—pressing the correct lever to take a sip of water. Then they placed the pairs in separate chambers and connected their brain using microelectrodes. The scientists then tested whether the rat receiving the signal could correctly interpret the information.

What’s new?

The passing of signals between rats was the first ever brain-to-brain interface. The team even managed to link brains of rats thousands of miles apart.

Neural Coupling

What?

In July 2013,neuroscientist Seung-Schik Yoo at Harvard University developed a device that can read signals from a human brain and feed them to a rat’s brain.

How?

An EEG device was planted on a human to measure the brain’s electrical signals. The human subjects then were asked to look at a computer screen. Every time they looked at the flickering screen,the frequency was sent to the EEG machine. When the subject wanted to a rat to “move its tail”,they would look at the screen and their brains would send the signal. The researchers controlled the rats using Focused Ultra Sound,which can beam an ultrasound signal onto a specific spot in the brain,exciting neurons around it. The rat had its head under an FUS beam,which caused it to twitch its tail.

What’s new?

This concept of neural coupling,researchers believe,can lead them to human-to-human brain interfaces without implanting electrodes.

Brain-comp Interface

What?

Thirteen years after she was diagnosed with a degenerative disorder in Dec 2012,52 year-old Jan Scheuermann,paralysed from the neck down,fed herself a bar of chocolate with her robotic arm,after which she declared,“One small nibble for a woman,one giant bite for BCI.”

How?

Scheuermann trained on the Brain-Computer Interface (BCI),allowing her to manipulate objects. A BCI is a direct communication pathway between the brain and an external device. BCIs are often directed at assisting,augmenting,or repairing human cognitive or sensory-motor functions.

What’s new?

Scheuermann became the first to demonstrate that people with a history of quadriplegia can control a robotic arm with electrode implants in the brain.

Compiled by Aslesha

For all the latest News Archive News, download Indian Express App

Share your thoughts