Elon Musk’s company Neuralink aims to implant a chip the size of a small coin in human brains to connect them to machines. However, a team of Australian researchers is proposing another solution to achieve a similar result. It is about using the veins, a much less invasive alternative.
A new competitor for Neuralink
Founded in 2016, Elon Musk’s Neuralink company wants to increase human capacities in several ways. One of these ways is to use brain implants of direct neural interfaces for connection with machines. In August 2020, the researchers mentioned a new brain implant under test. Originally, the interface was to take the form of small electrodes implanted in the brain and connected to a device near the ear. However, today we are talking about a chip the size of a small coin.
Particularly invasive, the Neuralink chip could see the emergence of a serious competitor. In a study published in the Journal of NeuroInterventional Surgery on October 30, 2020, and led by the University of Melbourne (Australia), researchers offer an alternative. It is a question of going through the veins to connect human brains to machines.
Useful for paralyzed people
The technique is quite simple. The electrodes must first be inserted into a stent, that is, an elastic, stretchable tube, before inserting it into an artery leading to the brain. The researchers experimented on two paralyzed people and were able to pass the electrode wire through a vein in the throat and then into a vessel near the primary motor cortex. The electrodes are thus placed against the wall of the vessel and can begin to transmit signals, for example of movement. Finally, an infrared transmitter located in the chest is responsible for recovering these signals. After several weeks of training, the guinea pigs performed various manipulations using their mere thought. In particular, they were able to click to send text messages and make purchases on the Internet.
For neurologist Thomas Oxley, lead author of the study, stent technology has already proven its worth in the heart and neurological field. The interested party explains that he only reused this function by adding electrodes. Convinced of their innovation, which they qualify as non-invasive, the study leaders hope to be able to move on to the commercialization stage.
This reduction in the invasive side is of crucial importance insofar as the innovation of Australian researchers could well overshadow Neuralink. Finally, the scientists pointed out that their system was insufficient in the context of neurology research. On the other hand, it could be very useful for paralyzed people.