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BioBolt - Hope for the paraplegic and more?

BioBolt attached to a primate cranium
BioBolt attached to a primate cranium
Euisik Yoon; EECS; U of M

This is very exciting news just out of the University of Michigan's Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department (EECS). They report that Dr. Euisik Yoon (Prof. EECS and Biomedical Sensors and Subsystem's Thrust Leader) and his staff have developed the BioBolt - a "non-invasive brain implant" to create motion from thought. That is, by placement near the brain on the cranium, the device can pick up neural signals and transmit them.

Those signals may then be transmitted to a computer and interpreted to produce the desired results of the subject with the device. Or, it is hoped that the device will send those neural signals to paralyzed limbs and induce motion in them. If you ever had a loved one who lost their limb abilities or even trunk strength - you can begin to understand the importance and desirability of just such a device.

Although the BioBolt looks like a bolt, it doesn't look non-invasive when attached to that primate skull! It is non-invasive because it requires no insertion into the brain material itself. According to Dr. Kensall Wise (Director, WIMS ERC) that sort of attachment would require one to leave the brain open and exposed. Also, the device has been developed so that it need not connect directly to the rest of the body's neural network. Instead it connects directly with the skin.

By operating with the skin as its message conduit to limbs and attachments, the device also requires low power. In this way the device just sits on top of the skull and listens for the brain signals. The signals could be used to assist the body in movement, control brain disorders (like epilepsy) and even diagnose certain degenerative disorders (e.g. Parkinson's).

Of course, patent protection is being sought for the concept of the BioBolt. Sun-II Chang (a Ph. D. Student in Dr. Yoon's group) presented a paper on their work at the 2011 Symposium on VLSI circuits in Kyoto, Japan on June 16th. It may seem a bit absurd, but Michael Crichton and Michael Hodges may have predicted this sequence of events in their 1974 film "The Terminal Man". But today that "Terminal" may have become the BioBolt.