Elon Musk’s startup, Neuralink, has announced the recruitment of volunteers for experiments with a brain-computer interface (BCI). The company’s goal is to connect the human brain to a computer, and it invites people with paralysis to test its new technologies.
According to the researchers’ plan, a device implanted in the brain will be able to transmit its nerve impulses, which will be decoded, and a paralyzed person will be able to type on a computer, for example, using only the power of his thoughts.
In May, after several unsuccessful attempts, Neuralink received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct human clinical trials. The company initially sought permission to implant implants in 10 volunteers, but it is not reported how many experiments were ultimately approved.
According to the company’s statement, at the beginning of the 6-year experiment, the surgical robot will implant 64 flexible networks, thinner than a human hair, in the area of the brain responsible for “motor intentions” in volunteers.
This will allow the experimental N1 implant, with a wireless rechargeable battery, to record brain signals and transmit them to a special application capable of deciphering a person’s intended movements.
The company says people suffering from quadriplegia, a paralysis of all four limbs caused by injury, or lateral amyotrophic sclerosis (ALS), a disease characterized by the degeneration of nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain, can participate in the experiments.
Although Elon Musk’s involvement in the Neuralink project is boosting the company’s prestige, competitors are not sleeping either. Blackrock Neurotech, a company based in Utah, produced its first BCI implant in 2004. Precision Neuroscience, founded by one of Neuralink’s founders, also aims to help paralyzed people. Its implant is a thin film that covers a specific area of the brain and is implanted using a so-called “skull micro-incision,” which developers say is much simpler than the proposed Neuralink robotic procedure.
At the same time, certain results are achieved by using already developed technologies. In two recent studies conducted in America, implants were successfully used to monitor brain activity when paralyzed individuals attempted to speak. Decoding these signals holds promise for helping them communicate.