Brain-Computer Interface Opens Up A New Chapter In Prosthetics

It’s widely accepted that Biotech is “The Next Big Thing.” A frontier of almost unlimited possibility that begins to blur the line between us and machines.

To be sure, the advances in Biotech that we’ve seen so far have been both helpful and exciting, but they’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s ultimately possible. In large part, that’s because it’s no simple task to meld biological and technological materials, but as the science marches forward, that’s beginning to change.

New findings presented at Neuroscience 2018, however, point to further advances in the field that promise to usher in the next generation of Biotech devices. The presentation focused specifically on recent advances in connecting physical devices to neural stimulation maps, which are poised to completely transform therapy and prosthetics for people with severe disabilities.

Here are some of the highlights, to give you a taste of what’s coming:

1) Researchers have developed a working prototype of a device that combines sound cues with computer “vision” that can help the blind perform routine tasks, including locating people and specific objects in their immediate vicinity.
2) A new brain stimulation technique dubbed “DCS” (Dynamic Current Steering) has shown promising results in terms of restoring limited vision to blind people.
3) A pilot program has been launched that uses avatars in a digital environment that, when combined with real time electronic feedback has been used to improve the motor function of stroke victims, in some cases even years after the patient suffered their stroke.
4) A team of researchers has successfully created a prototype of a prosthetic hand that can provide feedback to its wearer in the form of task-related sensations.
5) Finally, Biotech companies are generally getting better at processing brain signals and translating them into computer guided hand movements. An advance that will increasingly allow people suffering from paralysis and people with quadriplegia a much higher degree of independence as they begin to integrate electrical-stimulation-based prosthetics into their daily lives.

This last item is particularly noteworthy. If you follow the biotech space at all, you may be aware of the “Emotiv” headset, which translates brain signals into control of various devices, allowing you, for example, to steer your wheelchair with the power of your mind.
As impressive as the tech was when it was first released, it had some serious limitations. Over time though, researchers are improving the mind/machine interface, and results are not only improving, but expanding into other areas, again, most notably, prosthetics.

In this regard, it’s not unlike speech to text software. When first introduced, it was good, but fell far short of greatness, being about 65% accurate when initially released. The developers stuck with it, however, and today’s speech to text programs have a 99+% accuracy. We’re seeing the very same arc of development here.

All that to say that biotech is poised for another round of game changing innovations that will bring us closer to the realization of the promise many of us saw in the industry when it first burst onto the scene, and that’s a very good thing indeed.