Neuralink’s HMI uses ‘threads’ that are injected into the brain to tap into neuron activity, which can be read by machines, essentially understanding human thought. (Image credit: Pixabay)


Elon Musk recently unveiled the progress that’s been made with his neurotechnology company Neuralink and their endeavor in developing implantable brain-machine interfaces (BMIs). The company states that they are getting close to fielding human trials next year for their neuron-reading technology, which allows computers or other devices to ‘read’ human thoughts.


The BMI platform uses tiny sensors connected to flexible ‘threads’ smaller than a human hair (about 4 to 6 μm), which can be planted deep inside the brain. The system uses 1,000-times more electrodes than the leading FDA-approved device for Parkinson’s patients, meaning it’s capable of sending a higher volume of data. Neuralink has also designed a robot that can insert those threads via needles into the brain, while under the direction of a neurosurgeon.


The robotic electrode inserter implants the sensors directly into the brain without damaging any veins or surrounding tissue. (Image credit: Neuralink)


According to a white paper from Neuralink entitled “An integrated brain-machine interface platform with thousands of channels,” bundles of threads are implanted into the brain, avoiding blood vessels and damaging brain tissue. The embedded sensors garner information from nearby neurons, and send the collected data to a receiver on the surface of the skull and transmit it wirelessly to a computer or mobile device that uses AI to process the information.


While the BMI has been successfully tested on animals, it’s not guaranteed to work with humans just yet. Neuralink is currently seeking FDA approval for clinical trials to answer that question, and if all goes well, the company plans on initially using the system to help amputees and people who are paralyzed, giving them the ability to control their mobile devices and smart homes. 


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