Researchers at Battelle and The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center published a study that documented a brain-computer interface (BCI) breakthrough. We’ve written about BCI multiple in multiple articles. Most of the research with BCI centers on training physically impaired subjects to control or move limbs using their brains and a neuroprosthesis. Among the many examples of BCI research, we wrote about work at  École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) to enable paralyzed primates to walk again. We also covered PLOS ONE’s technology the enables people with paralysis to control a computer mouse.

The Battelle and Wexner study, published in Cell, used a BCI to restore sensation to the hand of a patient with quadriplegia. The research team used closed-loop subperceptual sensory feedback with a haptic wearable sleeve to help the patient use and sense both movement and grip. The ability to move or grip an object with your hand via your BCI, for example, has to be tremendously exciting for a paralyzed person. But hand movement and grip alone aren’t complete. The breakthrough in this study centers on the technology that provides feedback to the patient. The feedback simulates a sense of touch so that a person can tell — without looking — where they move something and how hard they grip. Those signals are not always consciously noticeable or perceptible.

The research team used an electrode array implanted in the subject’s motor cortex. They discovered the cortex receives normally undetectable (subperceptual) touch signals, such as a slight loosening of the grip due to distraction. The researchers developed an algorithm that detected the slight changes and automatically compensated via haptic feedback to the sleeve. What this means is the patient’s movements were sufficient to signal the brain about real time, real-world, minor grip and movement changes; the brain can then compensate automatically. As Battelle noted in a company blog post, the real-world impact of limb compensation is the ability to multitask. With this technology, for example, a subject could drink from a glass while watching television without taking his attention from the TV. Without touch feedback, a person would need to pause the TV show and pay full attention to the act of drinking.

Battelle began working on this technology six years ago and continues to develop and refine the BCI system. the first goal is to develop take-home BCI systems for people with quadriplegia.