BrainGate technology is a branch of science defining how computers and the human brain can mesh together. It is a brain implant system. The sensor, which is implanted into the brain, monitors brain activity in the patient and converts the intention of the user into computer commands or to the subject’s desired movement. It is designed to help people or patient who has lost control of their limbs, people with Lou Gehrig’s disease, or those who have been paralyzed by severe spinal-cord injuries. It is owned by Cyberkinetics and is under development and in clinical trials.
What is BrainGate technology?
The BrainGate Neural Interface Device is a proprietary brain-computer interface that consists of an internal neural signal sensor and external processors that convert neural signals into an output signal under the user’s own control. This sensor contains a tiny chip smaller than a baby aspirin, with one hundred electrode sensors each thinner than a hair that detect brain cell electrical activity.
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The ‘BrainGate’ device can provide paralyzed or motor-impaired patients a mode of communication through the translation of thought into direct computer control. This may allow the BrainGate system to create an output signal directly from the brain, bypassing the route through the nerves to the muscles that cannot be used in paralyzed people.
The chip is implanted on the surface of the brain in the motor cortex area that controls movement. In the pilot version of the device, a cable connects the sensor to an external signal processor in a cart that contains computers. The computers translate brain activity and create the communication output using custom decoding software. Importantly, the entire BrainGate system was specifically designed for clinical use in humans and thus, its manufacture, assembly, and testing is intended to meet human safety requirements.
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Tim Surgenor, President and CEO of Cyberkinetics said, “We hope to provide paralyzed individuals with a gateway through which they can access the broad capabilities of computers, control devices in the surrounding environment, and even move their own limbs.”
John Donoghue, the chairman of the Department of Neuroscience at Brown University, led the original research project and went on to co-found Cyberkinetics. Mr. John said, “The development of the BrainGate program is the culmination of 10 years of research in my academic laboratory at Brown University. We have not only demonstrated in preclinical studies that BrainGate can remain safely implanted in the [monkey] brain for at least two years, but we have shown that it can safely be removed as well.”
Several tests have been implemented in practice for the same purpose. Matthew Nagle, a 25-year-old Massachusetts man with a problem of spinal cord injury, has been paralyzed from the neck down since 2001. After using this trial, he has opened an e-mail, switched TV channels, turned on lights. He even moved a robotic hand from his wheelchair.
Another example is of Cathy Hutchinson, who has been paralyzed for more than 15 years due to a stroke, recently directed “a robotic arm to pick up a bottle of coffee and bring it to her lips,” using only her mind—and some mind-bending new technology.
The ultimate aim of the BrainGate program is to develop a fast, reliable and unobtrusive connection between the brain of a severely disabled person and a personal computer.
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