Yesterday, the New York Times profiled an implantable neuromotor prosthetic that allowed a young man suffering from a spinal cord injury “to control a computer, a television set and a robot using only his thoughts,” offering hope to many who are in similar situations. The broader term for the connection of man and machine is brain-computer interface, which implies that the technological connection makes motor output unnecessary.

The device described in the article, the BrainGate Neural Interface System, was developed by Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems, Inc. While the company is still in the testing phase, it is likely that BrainGate will be approved for marketing within the next two or three years.

The invasive design of the system still raises concerns, because it is implanted in the brain’s motor cortex. A pedestal extends through the scalp of the patient (noted as a potential for infection) which technicians use to connect the device to the computer. Researchers are currently in the process of developing a similar device that is non-invasive.

Cyberkinetics creates other products to aid those with injuries or degenerative diseases that affect the nervous systems.  The core technology in their medical products is a computer program that analyzes, interprets and translate electrical activity in neurons into an actual intention, then fulfills that intention.

This core technology also went into developing a device that restores touch sensations for those with central and peripheral nervous system injuries, as well as a system that records and monitors electrical activity in the brain.

For more information on brain-computer interface and neuroprosthetics, Wikipedia has an excellent summary on how the brain can interact with a computer minus any motor involvement. The article also provides an overview of the original BCI tests.