Researchers at the University of California San Diego and Boston University developed a new brain-computer interface (BCI) with a flexible backing, allowing arrays of micro-scale needles to conform to the contours of the brain, improving high-resolution brain recording. The researchers say that the new BCI is on par with and outperforms the Utah Array, which is the existing gold standard but has a hard and inflexible backing.
Adding a flexible backing allows the BCI to more evenly conform to the brain’s complex curved surface and to more uniformly distribute the microneedles that pierce the cortex. The microneedles, which are ten times thinner than a human hair, protrude from the flexible backing, penetrate the surface of the brain tissue without piercing surface venules, and record signals from nearby nerve cells evenly across a wide area of the cortex.
Looking to the future, penetrating microneedle arrays with large spatial coverage will be needed to improve BCIs so they can be used in closed-loop systems and offer a person using a robotic hand real-time feedback on the objects the hand is grasping. Tactile sensors on the robotic hand would sense the hardness, texture, and weight of an object. The information recorded by the sensors would be translated into electrical stimulation patterns that travel through wires outside the body to the BCI with penetrating microneedles. These electrical signals would provide information directly to the person’s brain about the hardness, texture, and weight of the object. In turn, the person would adjust their grasp strength based on sensed information directly from the robotic arm.
The study, “Scalable Thousand Channel Penetrating Microneedle Arrays on Flex for Multimodal and Large Area Coverage Brain Machine Interfaces,” was published in Advanced Functional Materials.
Editor’s note: This story was adapted from materials provided by the University of California San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.
To read more about the Utah Array, read “Utah Array Enables Proprioception And Sensation.”