A Brain-computer interface or (BCI) is a communication pathway between a computer and the brain either to improve cognitive and motor functions or to control an external device. Although currently this technology is mostly used by those with disabilities it is expected once the technology matures there will be many applications for the able-bodied.
The technology can be divided into three varieties: Non-invasive, where the user wears a cap filled with sensors, Partially-invasive where the sensors are placed inside the skull but outside the brain and Invasive where sensors are embedded directly into the brain. The more invasive the sensor the more accurate the signal, but the greater the risk of tissue damage and device failure.
Currently most BCI devices are neuroprosthetic devices such as a cochlear or retinal implants. Whilst neither of these have returned full functionality, they do make a profound difference to sensory experience. These implants send information from the device to the brain, rather than from the brain to the device.
Miguel Nicolelis demonstrated in 2003 that the signals from a monkey brain could be processed to control a robot arm. This technology has recently become refined enough to allow a paralyzed human patient to reach and grasp with a robot arm.
For these technologies to mature a greater level of accuracy in signal processing will need to be achieved. This will require a greater number of sensors and a better understanding of neuroinformatics.
- ThinkTech A blog dedicated to BCI developements
- Paralyzed patient controls robot arm using BCI Article from KurzweilAI
- Demonstration of paralyzed patient using robot arm from Nature Magazine YouTube
- Demonstration of a blind patient with a Retinal Implant reading from Discovery Magazine YouTube