Plug-and-play brain-decoding device picks up where it left off

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Scientists are getting better at using machines to decode electrical signals coming from the brain, but a new “plug-and-play” device represents a significant step forward. PeshkovaID/Depositphotos

(Nick Lavars/ New Atlas) — Machines that attach to the brain and decode its activity promise to open up all kinds of medical possibilities, potentially allowing for improved screening of Alzheimer’s or the monitoring of internal organs. One of their more promising applications involves allowing sufferers of paralysis to regain control of prosthetic devices and limbs via their brain signals, something a team from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) has now demonstrated with a first-of-a-kind plug-and-play device.

These types of machines are known as brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), and there are quite a few under development that have shown some promising capabilities over the past few years. In their various forms, these devices can be implanted in the brain and, powered by advanced algorithms, turn its electrical signals into control inputs for all kinds of devices, from prosthetic limbs, to complete exoskeletons and even drones.

The new technology developed at UCSF could mark a significant step forward in this field of research, with the team focusing on the software that translates brain activity into action. This machine learning algorithm was trained to track a paralyzed user’s imagined movements of the neck or wrist, as they watched a computer cursor make its way across a screen. (…)

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