How to Catch Brain Waves in a Net

A mesh of electrodes draped over the cortex could be the future of brain-machine interfaces

10 min read
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A photo-illustration shows the electrodes placed over the surface of a patient’s brain to record an electrocorticogram (ECoG).

This photo-illustration shows the electrodes placed over the surface of a patient’s brain to record an electrocorticogram (ECoG).

Photo: Adeen Flinker/University of California, Berkeley
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Last year, an epilepsy patient awaiting brain surgery at the renowned Johns Hopkins Hospital occupied her time with an unusual activity. While doctors and neuroscientists clustered around, she repeatedly reached toward a video screen, which showed a small orange ball on a table. As she extended her hand, a robotic arm across the room also reached forward and grasped the actual orange ball on the actual table. In terms of robotics, this was nothing fancy. What made the accomplishment remarkable was that the woman was controlling the mechanical limb with her brain waves.

HR300MPLEdWhitman

HR300MPLEdWhitmanHigh-tech hand: Engineers at Johns Hopkins University designed the Modular Prosthetic Limb for use as a brain-controlled prosthesis.Ed Whitman/The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory


The experiment in that Baltimore hospital room demonstrated a new approach in brain-machine interfaces (BMIs), which measure electrical activity from the brain and use the signal to control something. BMIs come in many shapes and sizes, but they all work fundamentally the same way: They detect the tiny voltage changes in the brain that occur when neurons fire to trigger a thought or an action, and they translate those signals into digital information that is conveyed to the machine.

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Video Friday: Turkey Sandwich

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

4 min read
A teleoperated humanoid robot torso stands in a kitchen assembling a turkey sandwich from ingredients on a tray

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We also post a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months. Please send us your events for inclusion.

CoRL 2022: 14–18 December 2022, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND

Enjoy today's videos!

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5 min read
Four examples of Nvidia's Instant NeRF 2D-to-3D machine learning model placed side-by-side.

Nvidia Instant NeRF uses neural rendering to generate 3D visuals from 2D images.

NVIDIA

On 20 September, Nvidia’s Vice President of Applied Deep Learning, Bryan Cantanzaro, went to Twitter with a bold claim: In certain GPU-heavy games, like the classic first-person platformer Portal, seven out of eight pixels on the screen are generated by a new machine-learning algorithm. That’s enough, he said, to accelerate rendering by up to 5x.

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Designing Fuel Cell Systems Using System-Level Design

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