A new technological breakthrough could soon provide the means for people with severely impaired movement to use their mind to control a computer, and even their own bodies. Sound like science fiction? Well, this amazing technology is here — and it comes in the form of a microchip.
Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems, Inc., a company out of Massachusetts, has developed a product called the “BrainGate Neural Interface System.” The device consists of two main parts: 1) a sensor, and 2) a pedestal. Only about the size of a baby aspirin, the sensor is made up of 100 tiny electrodes.
Through surgery, it is placed in the area of the brain that controls limb movement (the “motor cortex”). The sensor is wired to the pedestal, which extends through the scalp. The pedestal can then be connected to a set of computers. Basically, the sensor picks up and relays the neuron signals within the brain to the outside computer. Neurons are the very specialized cells that process information within the central nervous system, like little microprocessors. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to move, have sensory perception, or think properly.
It is estimated that there are 200 billion neurons in the brain — talk about a supercomputer! So, Cyberkinetics has found a way to translate the language of neurons to computers.
If a person has lost the proper function of a limb, but their brain is still working properly, then this means that the neurons that control movement are still sending their signals — they’re just not being transmitted or received as they should be. So, the BrainGate System takes these signals and sends them to a computer where they are analyzed and put into action.
Currently, the signals are translated into cursor movements, which means that the person with the implanted device can give the computer commands with a thought. So, if you are unable to control the movement of your hands, and thus use a keyboard or mouse, you just get your brain to do all the work!
This intriguing device is still in clinical trials, so it’s not available just yet. Cyberkinetics is currently investigating whether the BrainGate System can give people with severe motor impairment — quadriplegics with spinal cord injuries, stroke, or muscular dystrophy, or people suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease — the ability to control their environment.
For example, they could control the computer, television, or phone, or turn the lights on and off with their brain signals. It sounds almost unbelievable, but the results so far have been promising.
The ultimate goal of the BrainGate System is to allow people with paralyzed limbs or severe muscle conditions to control their own movements with their mind. This means that it could someday be possible for someone without the use of his/her arm to be able to move it again!
BrainGate could bridge the gap between the brain and the unresponsive limb. The technology for limb movement is still in development, as are the mechanics for using the BrainGate System to control robotic devices such as a wheelchair.
Just the possibility of paralyzed people being able to engage in more activities and become more independent is overwhelming. But it doesn’t stop there — this technology has almost endless potential in the medical field. It just goes to show how far modern medical science has come!