Monday, November 14, 2011

High resolution brain recording for mind control

With a new device, comprising of many electrodes, scientists have become one step closer to developing a convenient brain-computer interface. The recorder, that consists of 360 recording channels, can be fit in the brain more easily than previous versions with conventional electrode arrays. It was developed by the University of Pennsylvania, and can record information in 360 channels with the use of 720 nanotransistors. Because it is very small and foldable, surgeons can place the brain recorder in areas that could previously not been reached by using conventional arrays of electrodes. Animal studies have already revealed that the new recorder is able to generate data that we have not seen before.
The recording array.
The transistor array allows for recording in high resolution, while requiring ten times less wires than conventional electrodes. This makes recording brain information much easier, and we can use that for developing more complex brain-computer interfaces. We know of a lot of brain areas what it does, and the recording pattern tells us something about what the brain wants to signal. High resolution capture of signals in many brain areas allows us to model the information send by the brain, which we can use to mimic a response by using a computer. For example, a paraplegic could be thinking of moving his arm, a complex brain pattern that involves a lot of signals. The recorder picks it up, and sends it to a robot arm. Correspondingly, the hand performs the same movement as what the paraplegic was thinking about.

In studies with animals, scientists were able to use the recording array to observe what happens if they visualize objects in their brain. In addition, they gathered new data about sleep patterns and what happens in the brain during epilepsy. That shows we can not only turn ourself into robots with new devices like these, but we can also use it to learn more about how the brain signals information, and use this to unravel the mechanisms of brain diseases, and treat them by electrically stimulating the right areas.

Scientists also noted that the brain recorder was able to pick up signals with very high sensitivity. It is able to distinguish between normal and abnormal brain signals. Signals that are sent back and forth by wires of the brain are not simple binary yes/no elements: the frequency of the brain signal is important, and is often dysregulated in brain diseases. The new recorder was able to make this distinction, which serves in unravelling disease mechanisms.

Eventually, foldable and easy to insert arrays of electrodes will be developed as implantable devices. They could serve as some sort of neuroprostheses, reviving functionality by electrical stimulation. This could help paraplegics, but if we connect an external computer to the recorder, we might be able to control machinery with our mind. Now we need to find a way to do this wireless.

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