Get Regular Updates!
Search

Tech

image|

University of Melbourne

Moving machines with your mind

Moving machines with your mind

Researchers are recruiting the first patients for an experimental computer-brain interface trial.

Moving machines with your mind

Aussie researchers are recruiting five people with severe paralysis to test an experimental device connecting the brain to a computer in a bid to harness the power of mind over matter.

It could help people who are paralysed to move, communicate and interact with their environment just by thinking about it, scientists say.

Known as the Stentrode, the device has been referred to as a bionic spine because of its potential to help paralysed patients move again.

But its creator—interventional neurologist and Synchron Chief Executive Associate Professor Thomas Oxley—envisions an even bigger picture.

THE POWER OF THOUGHT

The Stentrode is roughly the size of a paper clip.

It consists of a small metal mesh tube (or stent) with electrode contacts within the structure.

Doctors plan to insert the device inside a blood vessel in the area of the brain responsible for movement—the primary motor cortex.

Thomas says the idea for the Stentrode emerged from the US defence force developing a robotic limb for injured soldiers.

“The problem was how do you get the soldier to control the robotic limb? You need a control mechanism straight out of the brain,” he says

It led to Thomas receiving funding from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

“When we started out on this project 5 or 6 years ago, back then, it was pretty science fiction the concept that we would be putting a chip into the brain to try and connect it to a computer,” he says.

 

View Larger
Image|Synchron Stentrode
Implanted through the jugular vein, the Stentrode is placed inside the brain in the command-control centre.

TRAINING THE BRAIN

Thomas has teamed up with The Royal Melbourne Hospital for the clinical trial.

The insertion of the device is expected to be relatively quick, with patients awake during the procedure and out of hospital the same day.

Thomas says patients will rest for a few weeks before he and the team “load up our training program”.

“Our software that we’ve built is basically a training program for the patient to learn how to achieve that control,” he says.

Thomas says the team will work with the patients for months.

“It’s a very involved trial. The patients will have to be very motivated, very enthusiastic,” he says.

“IT’S KIND OF LIKE TRAINING TO LEARN A NEW LANGUAGE OR A NEW SKILL.”

While it’s not quite Neo learning kung fu in a matters of seconds in The Matrix, it’s a futuristic concept to wrap your head around.

Synchron Stentrode: Brain Computer Interface for Paralysis

MIND OVER MATTER

If the Stentrode is shown to be safe, Thomas says the research will progress to a worldwide clinical trial ahead of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.

In the long term, Thomas envisions patients using the device for communication, such as sending text messages, writing emails or using word processing.

He sees patients tapping into smart home and work technology to control their environment, such as changing the temperature or lighting.

But the most significant application will likely be mobility, Thomas says.

“That’s the range of devices that will allow patients to move again,” he says.

Video|Thomas Oxley | TEDxSydney
A digital spinal cord that streams your thoughts

“The exoskeleton would be a perfect example. You would put on a sleeve or a jacket or a pair of pants that have their own motors in them, and you then control the movement of those arms and legs straight out of your brain.”

So will everyone one day have the power to control the world with a device implanted in their brain?

“If it’s to happen … the system will have to provide a superior ability to interact with technology to what an able-bodied person can achieve,” Thomas says.

“The way I think that will happen is through speed.”

We love science puns VIDEO

Republish

Creative Commons Logo

Republishing our content

We want our stories to be shared and seen by as many people as possible.

Therefore, unless it says otherwise, copyright on the stories on Particle belongs to Scitech and they are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

This allows you to republish our articles online or in print for free. You just need to credit us and link to us, and you can’t edit our material or sell it separately.

Using the ‘republish’ button on our website is the easiest way to meet our guidelines.

Guidelines

You cannot edit the article.

When republishing, you have to credit our authors, ideally in the byline. You have to credit Particle with a link back to the original publication on Particle.

If you’re republishing online, you must use our pageview counter, link to us and include links from our story. Our page view counter is a small pixel-ping (invisible to the eye) that allows us to know when our content is republished. It’s a condition of our guidelines that you include our counter. If you use the ‘republish’ then you’ll capture our page counter.

If you’re republishing in print, please email us to let us so we know about it (we get very proud to see our work republished) and you must include the Particle logo next to the credits. Download logo here.

If you wish to republish all our stories, please contact us directly to discuss this opportunity.

Images

Most of the images used on Particle are copyright of the photographer who made them.

It is your responsibility to confirm that you’re licensed to republish images in our articles.

Video

All Particle videos can be accessed through YouTube under the Standard YouTube Licence.

The Standard YouTube licence

  1. This licence is ‘All Rights Reserved’, granting provisions for YouTube to display the content, and YouTube’s visitors to stream the content. This means that the content may be streamed from YouTube but specifically forbids downloading, adaptation, and redistribution, except where otherwise licensed. When uploading your content to YouTube it will automatically use the Standard YouTube licence. You can check this by clicking on Advanced Settings and looking at the dropdown box ‘License and rights ownership’.
  2. When a user is uploading a video he has license options that he can choose from. The first option is “standard YouTube License” which means that you grant the broadcasting rights to YouTube. This essentially means that your video can only be accessed from YouTube for watching purpose and cannot be reproduced or distributed in any other form without your consent.

Contact

For more information about using our content, email us: particle@scitech.org.au

Copy this HTML into your CMS
Press Ctrl+C to copy

We've got chemistry. Want something physical?