Indian-American scientist develops brain-to-brain communication

B2B Sender 1111Washington (ISJ) ? An Indian-born scientist develops technology for direct brain-to-brain communication of two persons. A team of researchers led by Rajesh Rao, professor of computer science and engineering at University of Washington (UW) has successfully transmitted signals from one person's brain to control another person over internet. The non-invasive technology allows one person's brain to control another person's hand motions from miles away via transmissions sent over the Internet, bypassing the need for language.

"The new study brings our brain-to-brain interfacing paradigm from an initial demonstration to something that is closer to a deliverable technology," said co-author Andrea Stocco, a research assistant professor of psychology and a researcher at UW's Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences. "Now we have replicated our methods and know that they can work reliably with walk-in participants."

The research team combined two kinds of non-invasive instruments and fine-tuned software to connect two human brains in real time. The process is fairly straightforward. One participant is hooked to an electroencephalography machine that reads brain activity and sends electrical pulses via the Web to the second participant, who is wearing a swim cap with a transcranial magnetic stimulation coil placed near the part of the brain that controls hand movements. While the sender thinks about an action, the receiver does it in a split of a second.

The study involved three pairs of participants ? each pair included a sender and a receiver with different roles and constraints. They sat in separate buildings about half-a-mile apart and were unable to interact with each other in any way ? except for the link between their brains.

B2B Receiver 1111Each sender was in front of a computer game in which he or she had to defend a city by firing a cannon and intercepting rockets launched by a pirate ship. But because the senders could not physically interact with the game, the only way they could defend the city was by thinking about moving their hand to fire the cannon.

Across campus, each receiver sat wearing headphones in a dark room ? with no ability to see the computer game ? with the right hand positioned over the only touchpad that could actually fire the cannon. If the brain-to-brain interface was successful, the receiver?s hand would twitch, pressing the touchpad and firing the cannon that was displayed on the sender's computer screen across campus.

Researchers found that accuracy varied among the pairs, ranging from 25 to 83 percent. Misses mostly were due to a sender failing to accurately execute the thought to send the "fire" command. The researchers also were able to quantify the exact amount of information that was transferred between the two brains.

The team is now working to decode and transmit more complex brain processes, including more complex visual and psychological phenomena such as concepts, thoughts and rules.

They're also exploring how to influence brain waves that correspond with alertness or sleepiness. Eventually, for example, the brain of a sleepy airplane pilot dozing off at the controls could stimulate the co-pilot?s brain to become more alert.

The project could also eventually lead to "brain tutoring," in which knowledge is transferred directly from the brain of a teacher to a student.

"Imagine someone who's a brilliant scientist but not a brilliant teacher. Complex knowledge is hard to explain ? we're limited by language," said co-author Chantel Prat, a faculty member at the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences and a UW assistant professor of psychology.

Rajesh Rao was born and had his schooling in Chennai but migrated to the United States on a study scholarship. He has been researching in areas of computational neuroscience, brain-computer interfaces and robotics. His current research focuses on how the brain makes decisions based on noisy sensory information and how brain signals can be used for controlling computer interfaces and robots.

-N.B. Nair

Source: University of Washington

Image courtesy: University of Washington

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