Promise of Brain-Machine Interfaces Demonstrated by Wearable Electronics

Research conducted at the University of California (UC), San Diego has demonstrated that a thin flexible, skin-like device, mounted with tiny electronic components, can acquire electrical signals from the brain and skeletal muscles and potentially transmit the information wirelessly to an external computer. The development, published in Science, means that in the future, patients struggling with reduced motor or brain function, or research subjects, could be monitored in their natural environment outside the lab.

It also opens up a slew of previously unimaginable possibilities in the field of brain-machine interfaces well beyond biomedical applications, Todd Coleman, professor at the Department of Bioengineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, said. Until now, this brain-machine interface has been limited by the clunky, artificial coupling required by a vast array of electronic components and devices.

Coleman co-led the multidisciplinary team that developed the device while working as a professor of electrical and computer engineering and neuroscience at the University of Illinois last year. The device is made of a thin sheet of plastic covered with a water-soluble layer that sticks to skin after washing with water. Once applied, the plastic dissolves, leaving the electronic components imprinted into the skin like a temporary tattoo.

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