Interfacing to Neurons
New ways to connect wires to nerves are enabling devices that plug into the network of nerves
that normally relay commands from the spinal cord to the muscles, but fall silent when a
spinal injury breaks the chain. To achieve a better connection, Case Western Reserve
University researchers developed the flat interface nerve electrode (FINE):
FINE, is a cuff that squashes a nerve flat to bring fibre bundles closer to the surface - and to
the eight electrodes in the device's soft rubber lining. Future devices using FINE would likely
be targeted at people paralysed from the waist down. A computer interface to the implant could
give them control of their legs. Further into the future, a brain interface might allow a person
to control their implant with their thoughts.
The traffic through our nervous system is not just one-way, though, and for a device to restore
function to paralysed arms or legs it needs to be able to detect feedback from those limbs. The
first commercial walking aid that plugs into nerves demonstrates just that ability, and goes on
sale in Europe in this Summer. Neurostep, from Neurostream Technologies of
Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures in Quebec, Canada, designed by Andy Hoffer at Simon Fraser
University in Vancouver, controls ankle movement for people with foot-drop, a condition in
which nerve damage makes one foot hang limply while stepping forward.
The combination of neurosimulation, genetic programing, evolutionary programming, the
usual negative feedback, haptics, 3D technologies, and multi-dimensional info-graphics with
robotics and exo-skeletal frameworks will continue to create an ever expanding horizon of
As we continue to speed up transparent multi-processor multi-threading in the cloud, we will
expand the capabilities of the individual as well as society.