Scheme to Let Robot Take Over Brain-Computer Interface

MEMS-based system could position electrodes in brain tissue to improve neural prosthetics

4 min read

20 May 2008—A group of mechanical engineers at Caltech have come up with a way to guide miniature robots in the task of inserting and positioning electrode arrays in brain tissue. What they propose would be the first robotic approach to establishing an interface between computers and the brain by positioning electrodes in neural tissue. Researchers say that this could enhance the performance and longevity of emerging neural prosthetics, which allow paralyzed people to operate computers and robots with their minds.

In the brain-machine interface, the brain is undeniably the more chaotic and unpredictable of the pair. Electrical impulses flow between supple bodies in an aqueous pulp whose architecture is constantly changing. Neurons grow, shrink, and die, as do the synapses that link them. In the best marriage, a neural prosthetic would create a permanent one-to-one connection between electrode and neuron, ensuring that recordings of electrical spike activity—the language of information transfer in the brain—represents the chatter of a single cell per electrode. But this doesn’t always happen.

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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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