Mind over Machine

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.

... contd.

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