All over the world, systems that directly connect silicon circuits to brains are under development, and some are nearly ready for commercial applications, according to a new report from the World Technology Evaluation Center and announced by a news release of the University of Southern California (USC). Some of the conclusions of this report about brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are quite surprising. For example, North America researchers focus almost exclusively on invasive BCIs while noninvasive BCI systems are mostly studied in European and Asian labs. If you don't have enough time to read the 234-page report, please look at my selection of four exciting projects from all over the world.
Before going further, here is a link to this report, "International Assessment of Research and Development in Brain-Computer Interfaces" (PDF format, 234 pages, 5.90 MB), available online on the World Technology Evaluation Center (WTEC) website. All the images below have been selected from this report.
According to USC, this report contains three overall findings on Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) work worldwide:
- BCI research is extensive and rapidly growing, as is growth in the interfaces between multiple key scientific areas, including biomedical engineering, neuroscience, computer science, electrical and computer engineering, materials science and nanotechnology, and neurology and neurosurgery.
- BCI research is rapidly approaching first-generation medical practice -- clinical trials of invasive BCI technologies and significant home use of noninvasive, electroencephalography (EEG-based) BCIs. The panel predicts that BCIs soon will markedly influence the medical device industry, and additionally BCI research will rapidly accelerate in non-medical arenas of commerce as well, particularly in the gaming, automotive, and robotics industries.
- The focus of BCI research throughout the world was decidedly uneven, with invasive BCIs almost exclusively centered in North America, noninvasive BCI systems evolving primarily from European and Asian efforts. BCI research in Asia, and particularly China, is accelerating, with advanced algorithm development for EEG-based systems currently a hallmark of China's BCI program. Future BCI research in China is clearly developing toward invasive BCI systems, so BCI researchers in the US will soon have a strong competitor.
You can see above a picture of the Cyberhand, a project initiated at the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna (SsSA) in Pisa, Italy. "This is a project funded by the EU Future Emerging Technology Program to develop a hierarchical, distributed-control, multiple-degrees-of-freedom robotic hand for replacement of lost limbs. The hand is designed to respond to signals from the human nervous system. It is included in the DARPA Revolutionizing Prosthetics program." (Check the CyberHand Homepage for more details; this diagram can be found on page 82 of the report.)
Above is a "concept for a cortical prosthesis that utilizes a biomimetic model of hippocampal function and bypasses damaged regions of that structure to restore long-term memory formation." "That project first started at the University of Southern California (USC) and now involves collaborative efforts with Wake Forest University (WFU) and the University of Kentucky (UK). [...] The goal is to replace damaged regions of the hippocampus with microchip-based systems that mimic the functional properties of the lost tissue (Berger et al. 2001). The replacement silicon systems would have functional properties specific to those of the damaged hippocampal cells, and would both receive as inputs and send as outputs electrical activity to regions of the brain with which the hippocampus previously communicated." (This diagram can be found on page 110 of the report.)
Now, here is a BCI typing feedback interface with text prediction. (Credit: Fraunhofer-Institute for Computer Architecture and Software Technology, Germany). (This diagram can be found on page 143 of the report.)
My last selection is about wearable sensory devices constructing a wearable humanoid without muscle or skeleton. (Credit: NTT Communication Science Laboratories, Japan.) (This diagram can be found on page 202 of the report.)
Given the enormous quantity of information contained in this report, would you have chosen other projects? Drop me a note.
Sources: Viterbi School of Engineering, University of Southern California, December 13, 2007; World Technology Evaluation Center (WTEC); and various websites
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