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Magnetic Hammer Drives Tiny Medical Robot Through Brain Tissue

This millirobot has already probed a goat brain, and may someday maneuver through a human

4 min read
Photo: University of Houston
Hammer Away: A prototype containing a steel bead rests in front of two magnetic coils.
Photo: University of Houston

A tiny robot that jackhammers its way through the body sounds like the stuff of science fiction nightmares. But such a robot exists, and it could play an important role in the future of medicine.

A new study on the concept shows that millimeter-scale robots (known as millirobots) can penetrate lamb and goat brain tissue by responding to changes in the magnetic field generated by hospital medical scanners. That achievement could pave the way for fantastic voyages of biomedical discovery.

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
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A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic
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Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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