Home > Medical & biotech > The brain-computer interface. Current achievements.

The brain-computer interface. Current achievements.

From pixabay.com


This time we will talk about a very young technology with huge perspectives – brain-computer interfaces (BCI) or, sometimes they are also called brain-machine interfaces (BMIs), neural control interface (NCI) and etc…

By definition from the Neuromodulation book– BCIs measure brain activity, extract features from that activity, and convert those features into outputs that replace, restore, enhance, supplement, or improve human functions. Simply saying, BCIs provide a direct communication link between the brain and a computer or other external devices.

According to Wikipedia, research on BCIs began in the 1970s by Jacques Vidal at the University of California, Los Angeles under a grant from the National Science Foundation, followed by a contract from DARPA. Vidal’s 1973 paper marks the first appearance of the expression brain-computer interface in scientific literature.

Since that BCIs have made immense progress and according to the Grand View Research report published in February 2020 the global brain-computer interface market size is expected to reach $3.7 billion by 2027. Which made this area very attractive for all kinds of businesses around the world.

Areas of use

The BCIs offer an extended degree of freedom either by strengthening or by substituting human peripheral working capacity and have potential applications in various fields such as rehabilitation, affective computing, robotics, gaming, neuroscience and of course military and defense.

This year’s publication in the journal Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience summarized the progress in the area of BCIs. Despite the fact that many challenges still exist, huge progress in many different applications was made.With medicine and rehabilitation, everything is pretty clear: BCIs will help people to restore lost functions and, for example, allow disabled people to be able to communicate using computers and other devices. A good example of how such technology has developed is an article from 2014 where a man could get control of his prosthetic arms using a kind of BCI. Next, in 2016 and in 2021, the system became much better. Among the newest developments in this area – wireless communication using BCI. That makes it possible to directly send signals from the brain on external devices to communicate or control them. Only for rodents at the moment, but let’s be patient and wait for a version suitable for humans. As for now, with wires, scientists achieve great results in helping people with paralysis and other medical conditions to communicate using BCIs and brain-to-text communication (here is a short video of how it works) with a remarkable speed. Another approach proposes directly decode whole words from the brain signals and already demonstrated a certain level of success. Needless to mention Neurolink achievements with a monkey playing “MindPong”, and I also recommend watching the comments and explanation of this video by a famous neuroscientist.

A patient with amputated arms is moving a robotic arm with his thoughts.  Photo credit to Beckett Mufson.
Decoding Speech in a Paralyzed Person

Everyone likes to play games and people with disabilities are not an exception. Some of the games may be created for medical and rehabilitation purposes, like for children with autism, but some just for fun. In any case, it’s cool to play games just using the power of your brain. It’s a very popular field with immense potential, with a big dream of pure immersive virtual reality. Now that is something from sci-fi, but many think that such a technology can be created in the near future. Just imagine, you wear a special helmet or a suit, close your eyes and open them in a virtual world with all the senses characteristic of the physical body and even more. Sounds fascinating. But let’s return to modern times. Some companies, like bci.games, are fully concentrated on this special game development. Even such giants like Valve are also experimenting with BCI games, but aren’t close to releasing a commercial product. The general situation can be characterized in the next form – many developers worked in this field, created a lot of very simple games which can be played by everyone but the high-quality commercial product is far from reaching the general public, due to different reasons.

Picture from www.emotiv.com/bci-guide/

Robotics, of course, we can’t pass by this topic. Robots are no more just toys or science fiction, they have become part of our life, operating almost everywhere. Some of them are controlled by complex programs, another by the human mind through the BCIs. From 2005 till the present time, many kinds of research were done to evaluate possibilities of controlling different mechanisms by using BCIs.

Let’s start with medicine. There is also plenty of different stuff, like prostheses, exoskeletons, wheelchairs and more, which can be potentially controlled by a person’s mind. The purpose of the use is clear – restore the lost function or assist in various ways in different situations, including age-related changes of physical and mental functions. Or if you want an additional hand to help with some routine homework, there exist some possibilities. Many interesting achievements have already been made, and there is still more to come. That is not all, scientists are actively working on the implementation of BCIs in the space area, to control various robotic systems, like manipulators. There are still many challenges, in microgravity conditions, the human body undergoes many changes that make the registration of signals and their interpretation much more difficult. But certain success has already been achieved.That was all civil use of BCIs, but what about the military application? It is obvious that all or almost all prospective technologies are under the watchful eye of the military services. They have huge plans for it, many movies about super soldiers may eventually become true. Just read the relatively old, published in 2015, report about the potential use of BCIs called “The Shape of Things to Come: The Military Benefits of the Brain-Computer Interface in 2040” to understand what to expect. Meanwhile, several recent publications propose to use BCIs to “control military weapons and tools” and “for drone swarm control”.

Picture from www.programmersought.com/article/79795829658/

Companies and organization

Pretty much people from different businesses around the globe work in this area, many of them are trying to make an affordable solution for home therapy, treatment of different neurological states or playing games. Among commercial solutions, some of the most popular inexpensive, off-the-shelf BCI systems, provided by well-known companies: Emotiv Inc. (San Francisco, CA, USA), Ant Neuro (Hengelo, Netherlands), Cognionics (San Diego, CA, USA), Neurosky Inc. (San Jose, CA, USA), OpenBCI (Brooklyn, NY, USA), interaXon (Toronto, Canada), g.tec (Schiedlberg, Austria), CREmedical (Kingston, RI, USA).

There are open-source platforms like OpenBCI, which provides affordable tools and a lot of materials, though anybody can create a solution for their own purposes. Like, mind control robots and devices.


As we see, BCIs technology is developing at a fast pace. The main drivers are medicine, military and games along with pure science. Some open-source platforms make it easy to try to be a scientist and use your mind to control robots or just play games.

It also opens the possibility for complicated, promising and controversial, from ethical, safety and other points of view, technologies like BrainNet: A Multi-Person Brain-to-Brain Interface.

All in all the progress can’t be stopped, so let’s buckle up and see where this gets us.

*Article written by Mykola Makogon, also published on author’s Medium account

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