A sneak pick to the future: new brain impant technology

In 2012 the quadriplegic Jan Scheuermann had two electrode groups inserted in her brain`s left motor cortex. After a week she could actually use the implant in order to set in motion a prosthetic arm in all three dimensions. Also, as a bonus she could manage to move her wrist in an additional dimension.

So, this was enough for her to manage to feed herself with the arm. Researchers from the University of Pittsburg have been able to provide an extra three degrees of freedom through an implant-to-arm pipeline. This was achieved by adding extra finger motion where Jan only had a crude grip.

It is rather difficult to value advances like this made in the field of brain computer interfaces or BCIs. It is known that setting up certain functions to specific places is very hard to achieve. We can take as an example the TMS stimulation where the most useful response acquired for activating an cortical motor area is a common placing of the thumb back into the plane of the palm. This is the starting point in calibrating coil`s setting and power. So, we shouldn`t be surprised by the fact that scientists managed to add more subtle thumb control to the current series of prosthetic powers.

To offer a more detailed explanation, the new functions they want to achieve are finger extension, thumb opposition, finger and thumb pinch and something more abstract called `the scoop`. The science of setting up signals registered from electrodes in different locations, to functions; do not require any specific knowledge of anatomy and physiology then the basic placement of the bundle. The signal processing methods that they use come from a long history that followed their way towards the pont of doing something useful.

Although, researchers have to offer for these methods more accurate anatomical data about how to better allocate multiple arrays in different sections of the brain. The most important concern is how to make these arrays safe and legal. So, Blackrock Microsystems has established a location in Hanover, Germany because there some of the legislation on thought controlled prosthetics is more bearable. Blackrock constructs electrode arrays and almost all the peripheral equipment required like electrical feedthroughs, connectors, software and soon to be achieved wireless capability. Also, this company has offered the chance to join to Ming Yin because of his paper in the latest issue of Neuron. Yin combines a Blackrock electrode to a wireless link which has the capability of transmitting data.

Bottom line, with companies like Blackrock that offer this kind of solutions, and universities from all around the world that work in order to achieve a perfect signal processing software, we will soon have a new view of the approach to BCIs. So, for the future researchers hope will reach the point where there will be less guesswork and more accuracy in obtaining intent from the mind. The new brain implant tech from Blackrock is step further towards the innovative technology that we will have at hand in the nearby future.