BrainGate™ utilizes latest neurotechnology

Have you ever imagined being able to change the television channel or turn down the volume on your radio using your thoughts alone? This may seem like a magical ability only read about in fiction books, but believe it or not, technology that will allow such phenemona is right around the corner!

This technology is not as bizarre or far-fetched as it seems. We can already measure brain activity using instruments such as the electroencephalogram (EEG). The next step, controlling devices with thought, could prove especially beneficial for people who have lost one or more of their limbs. People who have lost motor control due to some spinal injury would benefit immensely from mind-controlled prosthetic limbs. A device known as the BrainGate System is making such applications possible.

Currently there are several tests being carried out in this field across the globe. Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems is running clinical trials that have resulted in a quadriplegic patient operating a prosthetic limb, changing television channels, and interacting with a computer.

In the BrainGate System, a sensor is implanted on the surface of the patient’s primary motor cortex, the part of the brain responsible for movement. The sensor is extremely thin and is embedded about a millimeter into the brain. It picks up electrical impulses that pass between neurons (brain cells) when the patient thinks. BrainGate is used by the patient to move the cursor on a computer screen, for example, using thoughts alone.

In order to demonstrate the underlying principle and applications of the BrainGate System, the patient is asked to perform cursor-moving tasks about twice a week. This activity is also used to evaluate the quality, type, and usefulness of the response that is generated by the patient while using the BrainGate System.

BrainGate has several advantages over other thought-controlled devices. As John Donoghue, director of Brown University’s Brain Science Program and a co-founder of Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems, Inc., said in an interview with, “BrainGate provides an interface with a computer that works immediately, without weeks or months of training... [The BrainGate] connects directly to the part of the brain that ordinarily controls hand movement and gestures, and it provides significantly more utility than devices that rely on ‘substitutes’ for the brain’s own arm movement signal, such as eye movements. Using eye movements, for example, to control a computer prevents one from looking elsewhere during use — something that is very unnatural and cumbersome.”

In this way, cursor control with BrainGate has become as convenient as using one’s own hand. It is possible for the patient to have a conversation while practicing cursor control with his or her thoughts. The future holds immense promise for the BrainGate System. It could be a stepping stone to giving people with spinal injuries some sense of control. Not only that, it could also be the first step towards devising neuroprosthetic limbs that could be entirely controlled by brain activity. Technological advances of this kind are giving hope of a better life to people with disabilities.