In the medicinal field, the world is yet to witness many technological advances that will make the lives of humans much easier. Many scientists The growth of human technology in the medicinal field is everlasting. For the problem of amputees and physically challenged people, human beings have tried to replicate god’s creation all over the history which resulted in the invention of several kinds of prosthetics. Wooden legs, hooked hands and glass eyes are some man-made body parts that we have always heard in classic folks and fables. However, the prosthetic industry has made an improbable growth in the medicinal field while providing uncountable hope and inspiration to the amputees. A more advanced type of prosthetics has been in making since the middle of the 20th century, these prosthetics can be moved like real limbs using the nerve signals from the amputee’s mind. The technology that collaborates with these movable prosthetics and makes them a success is known as the Brain Computer Interface.
What is Brain Computer Interface?
Brain Computer Interface or BCI refers to the technology that allows us human beings to control or command non-living objects such as well-engineered machines. In the use of BCI, the interface catches the signals from the brain and transmits them as a digital signal on an output device like a monitor or a prosthetic limb. Using this technology, blind people can be given eyes using high definition cameras as the BCI device, amputees can move their prosthetic limbs, paralytic patients can communicate and express their emotions easily, patients can move their wheelchairs with thought and physically challenged artists can express their art without actually moving their body. A common example of the BCI technology that we all can think of is the voice-enabled monitor of the great late scientist Stephen Hawking but unfortunately, the signals to his monitor were received from his cheek muscles that were later converted into words that the monitor translated.
The actual example of BCI can be taken from the popular science fiction movies which have unintentionally explained the BCI technology. Some of those movies being James Cameron’s Avatar in which the characters are able to move an extra-terrestrial body on a distant planet using their brain waves. A similar thing we saw in Iron Man 3 when Tony Stark is able to move his armour using the Extremis software connected to his brain using an electrode chip. Keeping the fictional world aside, the BCI technology in today’s world has been already used in a few prosthetics and several tests have been conducted on moving the cursor on a monitor screen or flying a drone using the BCI technology.
How Does BCI Work?
Human minds are capable of so many unknown attributes that we are yet to see. An average person’s brain contains up to 100 billion neurons whose job is to send signals to other nerve cells, muscles and to various other parts of the body. Neurons are the primary unit of the human body that enable us to move our limbs and continue our regular bodily functions. In patients with neuromuscular disease, a part or whole mobility of a limb, body part or of the whole body is lost. What scientists can do for treating patients with the neuromuscular disease is attach an electrode to a specific set of neurons in the brain. Once attached, the electrode will receive the signals from the neurons and translate them to a prosthetic limb, monitor or cursor. This is how BCI works and enables humans to move non-living objects with a thought of their minds. However, the object receiving the signals as an output must be designed and programmed efficiently to read the signal and perform the commands effectively.
Research and Development of BCI
The current status of the BCI technology is limited in the medicinal field and is more open in the entertainment and gaming industry due to fewer safety risks. BCI enabled headsets are already available in the commercial markets which can receive scalp signals to control software applications for various uses. The long-term use of BCI in homes for medicinal purposes is still on long trial. There are many complications that arrive while implementing the BCI technology on real human minds, restricting most of the use of BCI in laboratories.
Problems with BCI
BCI is definitely a wonderful technology to fix many neuromuscular diseases but as of 2019, there’s still too much of it is left for testing and experimenting. Even if scientists make too many advancements, the number one problem which BCI faces is the lack of enhancements in hardware capabilities. For example, consider the following situations:
- The condition of Electrodes placed on human mind – The electrode device must be abrasive free to be placed on the human brain and should be designed in a way to not to turn infectious over its long period implantation inside the human body. It should be able to stay functional for years as operating on the patient frequently to keep replacing the electrode device can be very risky.
- The functionality of the electrode and the output device – The second major problem that BCI technology faces is the poor engineering of the output devices. Poor in terms of not being enhanced enough to perform all the commands received and sent by the electrode. Even if the electrode transceives the signals from neurons effectively, the output device should be programmed in the most efficient way to be able to perform all the commands sent by the electrode.
BCI technology does appear futuristic and can help millions of lives in challenging their physical disabilities but for now, it needs a lot of experimentation and testing. Nevertheless, this technology would be available in the commercial market and medicinal field openly as soon as all the experimentation and improvements are done.