High-Bandwidth Wireless BCI Demonstrated In Humans For First Time
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Coming on the heels of the Neuralink announcement earlier this month — complete with video showing a monkey playing Pong with its mind, thanks to a wireless brain implant — researchers with the BrainGate Consortium have successfully demonstrated a high-bandwidth wireless brain-computer interface (BCI) in two tetraplegic human subjects. The researchers described their work in a recent paper published in the journal IEEE Transactions in Biomedical Engineering. As for the latest Neuralink breakthrough, Ars Science Editor John Timmer wrote last week that most of the individual pieces of Neuralink’s feat have been done before — in some cases, a decade before (BrainGate is among those earlier pioneers). But the company has taken two important steps toward its realization of a commercial BCI: miniaturizing the device and getting it to communicate wirelessly, which is harder than it sounds.

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According to [John Simeral of Brown University, a member of the BrainGate consortium and lead author of the new paper], the BrainGate wireless system makes the opposite tradeoff — higher bandwidth and fidelity — because it wants all the finer details of the data for its ongoing research. In that regard, it complements the Utrecht and Neuralink systems in the BCI space. The new BrainGate system is based on the so-called Brown Wireless Device (BWD) designed by Arto Nurmikko, and it replaces the cables with a small transmitter that weighs about 1.5 ounces. The transmitter sits atop the user’s head and connects wirelessly to an implant electrode array inside the motor cortex.

There were two participants in the clinical trial — a 35-year-old man and a 65-year-old man — both of whom were paralyzed by spinal cord injuries. They were able to continuously use the BCI for a full 24 hours, even as they slept, yielding continuous data over that time period. (The medical-grade battery lasts for 36 hours.) “We can learn more about the neural signals that way because we can record over long periods of time,” said Simeral. “And we can also begin to learn a little bit about how people actually will use the system, given the freedom to do so.” His team was encouraged by the fact that one of its study participants often asked if they could leave the wireless transmitters on a little longer. He has a head tracker he can use as a fallback, but several nights a week, he would choose to use the wireless BrainGate system because he liked it. “Right now, we typically decode or interpret the spiking activity from networks of neurons,” said Simeral. “There are other encoding mechanisms that have been studied in the brain that have to do with how the oscillations in the brain are related to these spiking signals. There’s information in the different oscillation frequencies that might relate to, for example, sleep state, attention state, other phenomenon that we care about. Without a continuous recording, you’ve surrendered the ability to learn about any of those. Learning how this all happens in the human brain in the home as people are behaving and having different thoughts requires having a broadband system recording from the human brain.”

“The ability to potentially have individuals with disability using these systems at home on demand, I think is a great step forward,” said Simeral. “More broadly, going forward, having more players in the field, having more funding, is important. I see nothing but great things from all of these interactions. For our own work, we see things on the horizon that were impossible five years ago, when there was essentially nobody in the corporate world interested in this space. So I think it’s a very promising time.”

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