Brain-machine interface breakthroughs

Today's New York Times reports on new developments in neuroprosthetics, implants enabling the control of technology like robotics and computers with your thoughts. From the NYT:

In separate experiments, the first person to receive the implant, Matthew Nagle, was able to move a cursor, open e-mail, play a simple video game called Pong and draw a crude circle on the screen. He could change the channel or volume of a television set, move a robot arm somewhat, and open and close a prosthetic hand.

Although his cursor control was sometimes wobbly, the basic movements were not hard to learn. "I pretty much had that mastered in four days,'' Mr. Nagle, now 26, said in a telephone interview from the New England Sinai Hospital and Rehabilitation Center in Stoughton, Mass., where he lives. He said the implant did not cause any pain…

The sensor measures 4 millimeters – about one sixth of an inch – on a side and contains 100 tiny electrodes. The device was implanted in the area of Mr. Nagle's motor cortex that is responsible for arm movement, and was connected to a pedestal that protruded from the top of his skull. Link (Thanks, Xeni!)

The results of the experiments, conducted by Brown University professor John Donoghue and his team, were published in this week's issue of the scientific journal Nature. The magazine's companion Web site has also published a free "Web Focus" that includes interviews, video of the experiments, and a collection of key papers in the field of brain-machine interfaces. Highly recommended browsing.

Link to Nature's Web Focus, Link to 2005 article from Wired about Nagle and brain implants