Power in prosthetics: the future of neurotechnology

Blond man with a prosthetic limb running.
Jonnie Peacock at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. Courtesy The Independent
Diagram showing how prosthetics can interact with the brain.
Diagram showing how prosthetics can interact with the brain.
The process for controlling a prosthetic limb using a BMI. Courtesy Science Direct.

The beauty of the BMI is that the brain and the computer can learn from each other.

Within the BMI research space, scientists have developed two approaches to designing neuroprosthetic technology.

Why not use the inherent learning mechanisms in the brain?

Think of it this way: if one week you learned how to drive a car and the next week you started to learn about thermonuclear astrophysics, chances are you wouldn’t forget how to drive the car in the second week! This was the motivation behind learning about neuroplasticity and testing it on lab rats. For 20 days, Carmena’s lab would use the same algorithm to train rats to complete a certain task, and every following day they noticed an improvement in how much time it took the rats to complete the task. Afterward, the rats were given a new algorithm to learn a new task, and to Carmena’s delight, the rats still remembered the old task! This breakthrough paved the way for future research in neuroplasticity.

Neural dust implanted on a nerve.
Neural dust implanted on a nerve.
The “neural dust” microchip, shown here implanted in a rat’s nerve fiber. Courtesy Berkeley Science Review

Master of Engineering at UC Berkeley with a focus on leadership. Learn more about the program through our publication.