Ever since the dawn of computers, we’ve depended on certain hardware to take our ideas from our brains to the screen. However, CTRL-Labs, a New York City-based neuro-tech company, is merging neuroscience and computing practices to create technology that directly links brain activity to computer output, cutting out the keyboard, mouse, buttons, and any other tool required in operating our tech devices.
CTRL-Labs co-founder, Thomas Reardon, and Adam Berenzweig, Vandita Sharma, among the other staff of scientists, are using electromyography (EMG) to detect the signals that move through the spinal column, which Wired reporter Steven Levy calls “the nervous system’s low-hanging fruit.” The scientists are working to get signals from individual neurons and determine the precise connection between the electrode activity and the body’s muscles so they can create a specific protocol that controls computer devices.
“In fact, in its first experiments CTRL-Labs used standard medical tools to get its EMG signals, before it began building custom hardware,” writes Levy. “The innovation lies in picking up EMG more precisely—including getting signals from individual neurons—than the previously existing technology, and, even more important, figuring out the relationship between the electrode activity and the muscles so that CTRL-Labs can translate EMG into instructions that can control computer devices.”
CTRL-Labs is trying to reverse the basic principles of technology that have been in place since humans first interacted with computers. “Where the robust signals from the arm—the secret mouthpiece of the mind—become our prime means of negotiating with an electronic sphere,” writes Levy. “The logical place to get ahold of those signals is the arm, as human brains are engineered to spend a lot of their capital manipulating the hand.”
This invention poses serious potential benefits for the medical industry. One of CTRL-Labs’ science advisors John Krakauer, professor of neurology, neuroscience, and physical medicine and rehabilitation at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is using the technology to create virtual body parts for patients with prosthetic limbs. They can use the CTRL-Labs system to develop a virtual hand before they receive a transplant.
“Take whatever body abstraction you are thinking about in your brain and simply transmit it to something other than your own arm—it could be an octopus,” Krakauer said.