Researchers at Brown University have succeeded in creating the first wireless, implantable, rechargeable, long-term brain-computer interface. The wireless BCIs have been implanted in pigs and monkeys for over 13 months without issue, and human subjects are next.
We’ve covered BCIs extensively here on ExtremeTech, but historically they’ve been bulky and tethered to a computer. A tether limits the mobility of the patient, and also the real-world testing that can be performed by the researchers. Brown’s wireless BCI allows the subject to move freely, dramatically increasing the quantity and quality of data that can be gathered — instead of watching what happens when a monkey moves its arm, scientists can now analyze its brain activity during complex activity, such as foraging or social interaction. Obviously, once the wireless implant is approved for human testing, being able to move freely — rather than strapped to a chair in the lab — would be rather empowering.
Moving forward, the wireless BCI is very much a part of BrainGate — the Brown University research group that’s tasked with bringing these neurological technologies to humans. So far, the pinnacle of BrainGate’s work is a robotic arm controlled by a tethered BCI, which paralyzed patients can use to feed themselves (video embedded below). While the wireless BCI isn’t approve for human use (and there’s no indication that they’re seeking approval yet), it was designed specifically so that it should be safe for human use.
The Brown researchers now intend to develop a different version of the device to help them study the motor cortex of an animal with Parkinson’s disease. They are also working on reducing the device’s size, improving its safety and reliability, and increasing the amount of data it can transmit — for the eventual goal of equipping those with movement disabilities, or elective transhumanists, with a wireless brain-computer interface.