The men with two brains – researchers establish brain-to-brain connection

6 Nov 2014

Image via University of Washington

Following their demonstration last year, researchers in the US have successfully established a direct brain-to-brain connection between pairs of people.

In the newly published study, researchers were able to transmit one person’s brain signals over the internet and use these signals to control another person’s hand.

The University Washington experiment, published in the Plos One journal this week, saw three pairs of people separated in different rooms, half a mile apart.

One member of each pair – a ‘sender’ – was connected to an electroencephalography machine that reads brain activity and sends electrical pulses via the web to the second participant, who was wearing a swim cap with a transcranial magnetic stimulation coil placed near the part of the brain that controls hand movements.

Using this setup, one person can send a command to move the hand of the other by simply thinking about that hand movement.

The ‘sender’ sits in front of a computer game. Image via University of Washington

Each sender was in front of a computer game in which he or she had to defend a city by firing a cannon and intercepting rockets, launched by a pirate ship.

The senders could not interact with the game, so their only defence was to think about moving their hand to fire the canon.

Across campus, each receiver sat wearing headphones in a dark room – with no ability to see the computer game – with the right hand positioned over the only touchpad that could actually fire the cannon. And it worked, the city was defended!

“The new study brings our brain-to-brain interfacing paradigm from an initial demonstration to something that is closer to a deliverable technology,” says co-author of the study Andrea Stocco, researcher at UW’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences.

The ‘receiver’ awaits a signal to press his right index finger. Image via University of Washington

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic