Category Archives: Brain-Controlled Devices

Inject-able Brain Implant Mapping



A simple inject-able brain implant is now all it takes to wire up a brain’s neurons. A diverse team of physicists, neuroscientists and chemists has implanted mouse brains with a rolled-up, silky mesh studded with tiny electronic devices, and shown that it unfurls to spy on and stimulate individual neurons.

The inject-able brain implant has the potential to unravel the workings of the mammalian brain in unprecedented detail. “I think it’s great, a very creative new approach to the problem of recording from large number of neurons in the brain,” says Rafael Yuste, director of the Neuro­technology Center at Columbia University in New York, who was not involved in the work.

If eventually shown to be safe, the soft mesh might even be used in humans as an inject-able brain implant to treat conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, concussions and issues arising from Traumatic Brain Injuries, says Charles Lieber, a chemist at Harvard University on Cambridge, Massachusetts, who led the team. The work was published in Nature Nanotechnology on 8 June.

How brain Cells Translate

Neuroscientists still do not understand how the activities of individual brain cells translate to higher cognitive powers such as perception and emotion. The problem has spurred a hunt for technologies that will allow scientists to study thousands, or ideally millions, of neurons at once, but the use of brain implants is currently limited by several disadvantages. So far, even the best technologies have been composed of relatively rigid electronics that act like sandpaper on delicate neurons. They also struggle to track the same neuron over a long period, because individual cells move when an animal breathes or its heart beats.

The Harvard team solved these problems by using a mesh of conductive polymer threads with either nano-scale electrodes or transistors attached at their intersections. Each strand is as soft as silk and as flexible as brain tissue itself. Free space makes up 95% of the mesh, allowing cells to arrange themselves around the inject-able brain implant.

In 2012, the team showed 22 that living cells grown in a dish can be coaxed to grow around these flexible scaffolds and meld with them, but this ‘cyborg’ tissue was created outside a living body. “The problem is, how do you get that into an existing brain?” says Lieber.

The team’s answer was to tightly roll up a 2D mesh a few centimeters wide and then use a needle just 100 micrometers in diameter to inject it directly into a target region through a hole in the top of the skull. The inject-able brain implant mesh unrolls to fill any small cavities and mingles with the tissue (see ‘Bugging the brain’). Nano-wires that poke out can be connected to a computer to take recordings and stimulate cells.

The Injectable Brain Implant

So far, the researchers have utilized the injectable brain implanted meshes consisting of 16 electrical elements into two brain regions of anesthetized mice, where they were able to both monitor and stimulate individual neurons. The mesh integrates tightly with the neural cells, says Jia Liu, a member of the Harvard team, with no signs of an elevated immune response after five weeks. Neurons “look at this polymer network as friendly, like a scaffold”, he says.

The next steps will be to implant larger meshes containing hundreds of devices, with different kinds of sensors, and to record activity in mice that are awake, either by fixing their heads in place, or by developing wireless technologies that would record from neurons as the animals moved freely. The team would also like to inject the device into the brains of newborn mice, where it would unfold further as the brain grew, and to add hairpin-shaped nano-wire probes to the mesh to record electrical activity inside and outside cells.

2014 Conference

When Lieber presented the work at a conference in 2014, it “left a few of us with our jaws dropping”, says Yuste.

There is huge potential for techniques that can study the activity of large numbers of neurons for a long period of time with only minimal damage, says Jens Schouenborg, head of the Neuronano Research Centre at Lund University in Sweden, who has developed a gelatin-based ‘needle’ for delivering electrodes to the brain. But he remains skeptical of this technique: “I would like to see more evidence of the inject-able brain implant’s long-term compatibility with the body,” he says. Rigorous testing would be needed before such a device could be implanted in people. But, says Lieber, it could potentially treat brain damage caused by a stroke, as well as Parkinson’s disease.

Lieber’s team is not funded by the US government’s US$4.5-billion Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative, launched in 2013, but the work points to the power of that effort’s multidisciplinary approach, says Yuste, who was an early proponent of the BRAIN initiative. Bringing physical scientists into neuroscience, he says, could help to “break through the major experimental and theoretical challenges that we have to conquer in order to understand how the brain works”.


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DeepMind – Google’s Human-Level Mind Control

Does DeepMind represent the initial step in software development becoming a major assist or replacement for controlling bodily functions in individual with Traumatic Brain and/or Spinal Cord injuries? Imagine a person suffering from one of those afflictions utilizing software to control the muscle functions of their body as they go about their normal everyday activities.

DeepMind, the Google-owned artificial-intelligence company, has revealed how it created a single computer algorithm that can learn how to play 49 different arcade games, including the 1970’s classics Pong and Space Invaders. In more than half of those games, the computer became skilled enough to beat a professional human player.

The algorithm — which has generated a buzz since publication of a preliminary version in 2013 (V. Mnih et al. Preprint at; 2013) — is the first artificial-intelligence (AI) system that can learn a variety of tasks from scratch given only the same, minimal starting information. “The fact that you have one system that can learn several games, without any tweaking from game to game, is surprising and pretty impressive,” says Nathan Sprague, a machine-learning scientist at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

DeepMind, which is based in London, says that the brain-inspired system could also provide insights into human intelligence. “Neuroscientists are studying intelligence and decision-making, and here’s a very clean test bed for those ideas,” says Demis Hassabis, co-founder of DeepMind. He and his colleagues describe the gaming algorithm in a paper published this week

Games are to AI researchers what fruit flies are to biology — a stripped-back system in which to test theories, says Richard Sutton, a computer scientist who studies reinforcement learning at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. “Understanding the mind is an incredibly difficult problem, but games allow you to break it down into parts that you can study,” he says. But so far, most human-beating computers — such as IBM’s Deep Blue, which beat chess world champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, and the recently unveiled algorithm that plays Texas Hold ’Em poker essentially perfectly.

DeepMind’s versatility comes from joining two types of machine learning— an achievement that Sutton calls “a big deal”. The first, called deep learning, uses a brain-inspired architecture in which connections between layers of simulated neurons are strengthened on the basis of experience. Deep-learning systems can then draw complex information from reams of unstructured data (seeNature 505, 146–148; 2014). Google, of Mountain View, California, uses such algorithms to automatically classify photographs and aims to use them for machine translation.

The second is reinforcement learning, a decision-making system inspired by the neurotransmitter dopamine reward system in the animal brain. Using only the screen’s pixels and game score as input, the algorithm learned by trial and error which actions — such as go left, go right or fire — to take at any given time to bring the greatest rewards. After spending several hours on each game, it mastered a range of arcade classics, including car racing, boxing and Space Invaders.

This rapid growth of data sets means that machine learning can now use complex model classes and tackle highly non-trivial inference problems. Our human brain constantly solves non-trivial problems as we conduct our daily activities. Interpreting high-dimensional sensory data to determine how best to control all of the muscles in our body, including the functioning of our internal organs. The development of cutting edge software, like DeepMind, could assist and resolve many of the issues confronting Traumatic Brain and Spinal Cord Injury patients, beginning with recovering the ability to move their arms and legs.

Traumatic Brain and Spinal Injury Patients, Walk Again

Traumatic brain and Spinal injury patients, who have been paraplegics in the past for the remainder of their lives, have new hope to walk again on the horizon.

There has been a lot of activity in brain-computer interfaces to help such people.
Another pioneering research group in this area is the laboratory of Miguel Nicolelis at Duke University Center for Neuroengineering. Nicolelis and colleagues have shown that a rhesus monkey in North Carolina could, using only its brain, control the walking patterns of a robot in Japan. In 2011, they got a monkey to move a virtual arm and feel sensations from it.
This team is leading the Walk Again Project, an international consortium of research centers dedicated to creating brain-computer interfaces to restore movement.

A 29-year-old paraplegic literally kicked off soccer’s World Cup competition in Brazil, using a mind-controlled exoskeleton that looks as if it came from the “Iron Man” movies.

The organizers of the international Walk Again Project said the symbolic soccer-ball kick was performed during the World Cup’s opening ceremonies in São Paulo’s Corinthians Arena by Juliano Pinto. He’s an athlete from Galea in Brazil’s São Paulo State who lost the use of his legs after a car accident in 2006.

Seven other paralyzed patients who volunteered to go through months of training for the task watched from the sidelines.

“We did it!!!!” the project’s leader, Duke University neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis, tweeted. Nicolelis spearheaded a team of more than 150 scientists to create the exoskeleton — an effort that he says cost the Brazilian government $14 million over the past two years.

Was Pinto’s few seconds of fame worth the cost? Probably not, if we’re just talking about a kickoff that took a couple of seconds to complete. But the project’s researchers said the advances made in the course of the years-long effort — and the exposure given to the next generation of brain-controlled prosthetic — could be priceless.

“The World Cup demonstration is ceremonial, as we have only a moment to show a kick,” Sanjay Joshi, a roboticist from the University of California at Davis who was involved in the Walk Again Project, told NBC News via email from Brazil. “But maybe that kick will inspire a child somewhere in the world to become a doctor, engineer or scientist.”

Joshi said the project’s long-term aim is to bring together neuroscience, engineering and medicine to build brain-controlled devices that can change the lives of paralyzed patients. Nicolelis struck a similar tone in a post-kickoff statement: “It is only the beginning of a future in which people with paralysis will be able to leave the wheelchair and literally walk again.”

How it works

The system blends the hardware of a battery-powered “Iron Man” exoskeleton with a control system that’s guided by brain waves. Pinto wore an electroencephalogram (EEG) cap dotted with electrodes, which picked up and magnified the faint electrical signals emanating through his skull. Sensors were built into the suit to detect muscle movements.

At first, Nicolelis considered using brain implants to control the suit, but he and his colleagues quickly determined that the EEG cap was less intrusive and more manageable.

During the training period, Pinto and the seven other subjects learned to think about moving their feet in such a way that the corresponding signals from their brains and muscles would register with the computerized guidance system. The exosuit’s wearer received feedback from the feet in the form of buzzing vibrations felt on the skin.

All eight patients learned to walk using the suit, and one overachiever took “a total of 132 steps, to the awe of everyone present,” Nicolelis told NBC News.

At the World Cup ceremonies, all it took was a tap from Pinto’s robo-leg to send the soccer ball rolling. Meanwhile, assistants stood on either side, helping to steady the bulky suit. The moment passed so quickly that many TV viewers missed it.

What it means

In the wake of the World Cup kickoff, experts who weren’t involved in the Walk Again Project debated whether the effort scored a winning goal.

“The demo did not advance the state of the art,” Jose Contreras-Vidal, a biomedical engineer at the University of Houston, told NBC News in an email. “Certainly our NeuroRex was the first and remains the only brain-controlled exoskeleton to allow spinal cord injury patients to walk over-ground unassisted, and we have been able to do so with about 10 percent of the funding Dr. Nicolelis has received to develop their exo.”

Contreras-Vidal said one of the metrics for evaluating the return on investment should be the number of Brazilian scientists and students who benefit from their involvement in the Walk Again Project.

“I suppose the infrastructure will remain in Brazil, which is good,” Contreras-Vidal wrote. “What matters now is what the plans are for the future. Clinical (longitudinal) trials must be done with patients, once the system is completed and validated. Dr. Nicolelis is not known for working with EEG and walking robotics, and thus expertise in these areas would need to be developed and retained in Brazil to continue the project. We hope he succeeds.”

Anil Raj, a research scientist at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, agreed that the project’s real value depends on what comes after the kick.

“A successful kick is a demonstration event, but the technological development needed to be able to attempt the demo is the contribution to the future of exoskeletons for those with spinal cord injury,” Raj said in an email. “$14 million for training eight patients and building a novel exoskeleton and brain-controlled interface seems to me to be a reasonable expenditure.”

Hitachi Brain Control Device To Assist Traumatic Brain & Spinal Injury Patients

Hitachi has been working on the development of a brain control device that will allow traumatic brain and spinal cord injury patients flexibility in their everyday life.The original hardware for a device that utilizes this technique was developed by Hitachi, and it allows a person with locked-in syndrome to say “yes” or “no.”

Allowing the user to forget the TV remote clicker and control electronic devices without lifting a finger simply by reading brain activity.The “brain-machine interface” developed by Hitachi Inc. analyzes slight changes in the brain’s blood flow and translates brain motion into electric signals.

A cap connects by optical fibers to a mapping device, which links, in turn, to a toy train set via a control computer and motor during one recent demonstration at Hitachi’s Advanced Research Laboratory in Hatoyama, just outside Tokyo.

A researcher, demonstrated the device by telling a reporter to take a deep breath and relax. At his prompting, a reporter did simple calculations in her head, and the train sprang forward — apparently indicating activity in the brain’s frontal cortex, which handles problem solving.

Activating that region of the brain — by doing sums or singing a song — is what makes the train run, according to the researcher. When the user stops the calculations, the train also stops. Hitachi’s scientists are set to develop a brain TV remote controller letting users turn a TV on and off or switch channels by only thinking. The technology could one day replace remote controls and keyboards and perhaps help disabled people operate electric wheelchairs, beds or artificial limbs.

Although brain-machine interface technology has traditionally focused on medical uses, makers like Hitachi and Japanese automaker Honda Motor Co. have been racing to refine the technology for commercial application. Honda, whose interface monitors the brain with an MRI machine like those used in hospitals, is keen to apply the interface to intelligent, next-generation automobiles.

Underlying Hitachi’s brain-machine interface is a technology called optical topography, which sends a small amount of infrared light through the brain’s surface to map out changes in blood flow. Initial uses would be helping people with paralyzing diseases communicate even after they have lost all control of their muscles.

Since 2005, Hitachi has sold a device based on optical topography that monitors brain activity in paralyzed patients so they can answer simple questions, for example, by doing mental calculations to indicate “yes” or thinking of nothing in particular to indicate “no.”

“We are thinking of various kinds of applications,” project leader Hideaki Koizumi said. “Locked-in patients can speak to other people by using this kind of brain machine interface.”

A key advantage to Hitachi’s technology is that sensors don’t have to physically enter the brain. Earlier technologies developed by U.S. companies like Neural Signals Inc. required implanting a chip under the skull.

Still, major stumbling blocks remain.

Size is one issue, though Hitachi has developed a prototype compact headband and mapping machine that together weigh only about two pounds. Japanese electronics giant Hitachi has unveiled a proto-type model of a portable brain-machine interface lately. This portable brain-machine interface is equipped with eight pairs of lasers and optical sensors in a special headband (weighting 400gram to 630gram) to measure prefrontal cortex activity. It senses activity from the user’s brain and converts it into signals to control electronic devices. It’s pretty cool!

In fact Hitachi demonstrated an early prototype in November last year. The device enabled users to turn on/off the power switch with a thought. It was very unique but the design of the headset was a bit old-fashioned. This latest brain-machine interface selling at US$840,000 which is shown at Hitachi’s headquarters in Tokyo represents an enormous leap forward compared to the previous version. Hitachi says the system is easy to use and that it has been built using parts from models designed for medical applications.

Another would be to tweak the interface to more accurately pick up on the correct signals while ignoring background brain activity.

Any brain-machine interface device for widespread use would be “a little further down the road,” Koizumi said.






Brain Controlled Devices Help Paralyzed People

Brian Controlled Devices will help the 6 Million Americans suffering from Traumatic Brain and/or Spinal Cord Injuries resulting in their becoming paralyzed. For those living with paralysis, mentally controlling artificial limbs and mobility devices would be a big step forward toward more independent living.

Melody Moore Jackson, director of the BrainLab at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is trying to make that happen.
Jackson started this lab in 1998 to look at methods of brain control that didn’t involve surgery. At that time, she estimates, there were about five labs working on the same topic of brain-computer interfaces. Now there are about 300.

Neutral Control For Assistive Technology

The BrainLab was one of the first to demonstrate that a person can control a robotic arm and a wheelchair with brain signals,
“We can literally influence the wiring of the brain, rewiring the brain, so to speak, to allow them to make new neural connections, and hopefully to restore movement to a paralyzed arm,” Jackson said.
A smaller subset in need of such technologies consists of patients with locked-in syndrome, a rare neurological disorder. These patients feel, think, and understand language, but cannot move or speak — they are “prisoners in their own bodies,” Jackson explained.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

A famous example is Jean-Dominique Bauby, who became locked-in after a stroke, and wrote the memoir “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” by blinking to indicate individual letters. Jackson wants to open up possibilities for people with locked-in syndrome to communicate and move.

One technique that Jackson and colleagues use to harness brain signals is called functional near-infrared spectroscopy. This involves shining a light into the brain to discern how much activity is there, and examining the corresponding oxygen level.
Light at a specific wavelength is beamed into the brain, and the oxygen present will absorb some of that light. This allows scientists to pick up on small differences in the blood’s oxygenation.
For example, scientists can place a sensor over the Brocca’s area, a part of the brain essential for language. This area is activated when you talk to yourself inside your head or count silently, which is called subvocal speech.

Scientists can use the oxygen levels associated with this to create a system of allowing a person to say “yes” and “no” just by thinking; “no” corresponds to no subvocal speech or nonsense syllables.

 Advancing Research on Brain Controlled Devices

But Jackson wanted to make something more interesting to learn. Her group created a hot-air balloon video game, where the balloon reflects the blood oxygenation level. Multiple locked-in syndrome patients can compete with each other in this game.
“It’s not necessarily just for fun,” Jackson said. “We can actually say, ‘Well, they got 70% of the obstacles correct, they were able to jump over the mountains or get through the wind.’ And so it also allows us to collect data.”
In the stroke rehabilitation arena, Jackson’s group hopes to restore movement in people who have paralysis or partial paralysis in a limb.
Researchers are looking at a rehabilitation robot called an exoskeleton, a device that a person sits in to be able to move limbs that they wouldn’t otherwise. The robot can detect the brain signal corresponding to a person thinking about moving an arm, and then move the arm.
“What we’re trying to do is make new neural connections from the brain to the arm,” Jackson said.
The lab has also developed a wheelchair that a person can drive by using brain signals, rather than moving a joystick or pressing buttons.
Such brain-computer interfaces require that the user wear an EEG cap to measure brain signals, but setting one up is very complicated. Jackson hopes to make it accessible for anyone to use in their own home.
“You can imagine how much faster the therapy would go if you were doing it all the time,” she said.