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Neural Interfaces: From Disability to Enhancement

Credit: Jaimie Duplass/Adobe

Credit: Jaimie Duplass/Adobe

By Scott Kiel-Chisholm

Neuroprosthetic arms, mind-controlled exoskeletons and brain–computer interfaces are already enabling the disabled, but what happens when these and other devices become mainstream consumer products that blur the lines between enhanced human and machine?

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The human brain communicates with every part of the body by sending neural impulses through the central nervous system. Neural interface devices mimic this by recording neural impulses and decoding what the brain is asking the specific body part to do before instructing an assistive device. These neural interface devices include neuroprosthetic limbs, bionic eyes and even a bionic spine.

One example of a neural interface device is BrainGate, which was developed for people who cannot move or communicate. BrainGate enables individuals who cannot move to use a computer or control a wheelchair, telephone and a number of other assistive devices. It is currently in clinical trials in the United States.

A bionic eye is being developed by Bionic Vision Australia. This will enable individuals with vision impairment to regain a sense of vision, and continuing scientific research will improve the technology to provide a clearer picture of the world.

Of particular interest to people who have severe back injury, including those who have paralysed limbs, is the continuing development of the bionic spine by neurologists and biomedical engineers from the Royal Melbourne Hospital, The University of Melbourne and the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health. The bionic spine interfaces with a robotic exoskeleton that surrounds the body and enables movement...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.