Scientists want to add broadband technology to your brain — but it’s not what you think

A screenshot from the study into broadband-enabled BCI
(Image credit: Nature Electronics)

Scientists have devised a way to let the human brain communicate with computers using a wireless neural implant, in the latest attempt to move the realm of brain-computer interfaces forward.

Published in Nature Electronics, the research team with Pursue University have built a wireless communication technique for brain implants – known as biphasic quasistatic brain communication. This transmits information to a headphone-shaped hub, with the hub sending power and programming bits to the implant through fully electronic signals to avoid transduction loss, according to Nature.

This builds on technology that’s seen, for example, BCI systems translate neural signals into sentences at roughly 150 words per minute, according to research published this year. This is close to normal conversational speed.

Tapping into the body's built-in broadband

Wearable devices that form part of BCI systems normally use electromagnetic fields to communicate information wirelessly – but implants suffer from a high amount of absorption by the body’s tissue. 

There are alternatives that have been tested, including ultrasound, optical, and magneto-electric forms of communication, but these all cause large transduction losses due to the energy conversion process.

The Purdue University team, instead, used what they have termed biphasic quasistatic brain communication. This relies on a two-phase process that unfolds in the brain, allowing a small implanted sensor to detect and transfer information to the headphone-shaped wearable. 

The system aims to tap into the brain and body’s broadband network, which comprises the electric signals that transfer information through it – and augment it. 

By using such a BCI system, they hope the allow high bandwidth interactions between the brain signals and computers, while keeping power consumption low.

BCI and related technologies have been gaining traction in recent years, and Nature even named it the technology of the year for 2023. 

The most widely known entity pursuing this technology is Elon Musk’s Neuralink, which has recently been given the green light to test its brain chip on humans. There are, however, concerns that testing on monkeys led to an abnormally high death rate as a direct result of the implants, according to Interesting Engineering.

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Keumars Afifi-Sabet
Features Editor, ITPro

Keumars Afifi-Sabet is the Features Editor for ITPro, CloudPro and ChannelPro. He oversees the commissioning and publication of in-depth and long-form features, including case studies and op-eds, across a breadth of topics in the B2B technology space. He also contributes to a vareity of other publications including The Week Digital and TechRadar Pro. Keumars joined ITPro as a staff writer in 2018, and has expertise in a variety of areas including  AI, cyber security, cloud computing and digital transformation, as well as public policy and legislation.