Mind Control

A brain-hacking technique may make prosthetics easier to control with your mind

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Brain-Computer Interfaces, or BCIs, have gained recent notoriety thanks to Elon Musk and his Pong-playing monkey, but in truth, researchers have been experimenting with the tech for years.

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Some of the greatest advances of this technology have been in the world of prosthetics. Think robot arms and hands, or other limbs, controlled via an implant in the brain.

But it’s still a challenge to make BCI-controlled limbs seamless and effective for people who use them.

UPMC/Pitt Health Sciences

UPMC/Pitt Health Sciences

But there is hope. In a new study published in Science, researchers demonstrate a brain-hacking technique to make these prosthetics easier to use.

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The researchers implanted electrodes into a participant’s motor cortex so he could control a robotic arm using his thoughts alone.

They also placed a set of electrodes in his somatosensory cortex, to give him tactile feedback — essentially, the sense of touch.

The somatosensory cortex is the part of the brain that processes sensory input, including touch.

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By creating artificial touch sensations via the electrodes implanted in his brain, the participant found it much easier to control the prosthetic arm.

“Sensory feedback from limbs and hands is hugely important for doing normal things in our daily lives, and when that feedback is lacking, people’s performance is impaired.”

Jennifer Collinger, professor at Pitt Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

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The tactile feedback enabled the participant to complete certain tasks using the robot arm, like pouring himself a glass of water, in half the time it took to complete without the feedback.

See it in action >>>

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UPMC/Pitt Health Sciences

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As the results show, giving people back their sense of touch may be the key to making brain-controlled prosthetics even better.

Read more stories about science here.

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