Israeli Researchers Develop Brain-Computer Interface

Published: June 1st 2010
in News » Israel


“Brain-computer interface” is the term Israeli researchers are using to describe a system of computers that operate by reading a person’s brain signals.


Matti Mintz from Tel Aviv University’s biopsychology research unit, and Professor Hezi Yeshuran from the computer science department, believe that this seemingly outrageous concept of mind-operated computers is not too far off, and could potentially make a great medical impact regarding the disabled.


“If you had asked me 20 years ago, I would have told you it would take another 100 years, but it’s happening much faster,” Mintz told Haaretz.


Mintz spoke about the health benefits of brain interface technology, describing a brain chip designed by a colleague in the United States to help with balance. According to Mintz, both Europe and the US have been investing in this type of research as a means to deal with an increasingly aging population, who require greater effort to perform simple tasks.


Yeshuran agrees. “If we understand the brain’s code, we’ll be able to operate other systems − for example, assembling a bionic hand that can receive signals from the brain to function instead of damaged limbs,” he said.


“To a certain extent we already know how to do that. Let’s say, for instance, that you imagine that you are drumming on the table with your fingers: We will be able to tell with which finger you want to drum.”


Is Yeshuran implying that soon, scientists with electrode caps and other methods of detecting “brain code” will be able to read our minds?


Building on research by Farwell and Donchin in 1988, theElectrical Engineering Department of the Haifa’s Technion-Israel Institute of Technology produced a brain computer interface model in 2005.


The old model had the concept of allowing a subject to communicate via a system designed to “exploit” the neurons in the brain responsible for bodily functions.


The Israeli Institute of Technology has now found a way to better pick up these brain signals.


Detecting nerve signals in the brain was the springboard for other brain-interface projects that may enable damaged parts of the brain to move limbs, or even to give sight to the blind.


In Mintz’s case, the development of a computer circuit yields hopes of being able to replace damaged areas to the brain and carry out their functions anyway, like sending brain signals for the movement of artificial limbs.


This has the potential to aid patients whose brains have either deteriorated with age, or damaged due to injury. Mintz hopes the circuit will be able to mimic the structure and activity of the brain.


The circuit will then be implanted as a brain chip and connected to the damaged region of the brain, and the chip would detect nerve signals to activate limbs.


The chip will not only provide an alternative to basic brain functions, but will be able to retrieve information from a person’s surroundings. For example, if a person with the implanted chip were to touch a hot surface, the chip would “learn” that the surface is hot, and communicate this to the body for future reference.


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