Non-invasive devices


Can the brain be deciphered without opening up the skull?

PATRICK KAIFOSH’S left hand lies flat on the table in front of him. Occasionally his fingers twitch or his palm rises up slightly from the surface. There is nothing obvious to connect these movements with what is happening on the tablet in front of him, where a game of asteroids is being played. Yet he is controlling the spaceship on the screen as it spins, thrusts and fires.

What enables him to do so is a sweatband studded with small gold bars that sits halfway up his left forearm. Each bar contains a handful of electrodes designed to pick up the signals of motor units (the combination of a motor neuron, a cell that projects from the spinal cord, and the muscle fibres it controls). These data are processed by machine-learning algorithms and translated into the actions in the game. Dr Kaifosh, a co-founder of CTRL-Labs, the startup behind the device, has learned to exercise impressive control over these signals with hardly any obvious movement.

Some say that the claims of Dr Kaifosh and Thomas Reardon, his co-founder, that CTRL-Labs has created a brain-machine interface are nonsense. The sweatband is nowhere near the…