It's the first noninvasive human-to-human brain interface to do so.
Many new studies have shown that people can control things -- like video games or a cursor on a screen -- only with their thoughts, but a new project takes this to the next level: people controlling other people with their thoughts.
A new study by University of Washington researchers -- led by Rajesh Rao and Andrea Stocco -- created the first human-to-human brain interface that is noninvasive. It allowed the thoughts of one researcher to manipulate movement of another.
The study used electroencephalography (EEG) -- which is used to record brain activity noninvasively from the scalp -- and transcranial magnetic stimulation, which is a noninvasive way of delivering stimulation to the brain to obtain a response.
Rao sat in his laboratory, where he wore a cap hooked up to electrodes. The electrodes were connected to an electroencephalography machine in order to read the electrical activity in his brain.
Meanwhile, Stocco was in his laboratory across campus with a swim cap marked with the stimulation site for the transcranial magnetic stimulation coil. The coil was positioned over his left motor cortex, which controls hand movement. There was a Skype connection between the two labs for coordination purposes, but neither Stocco nor Rao could see the Skype screens.
Rao was playing a video game with his mind, where he had to imagine moving his right hand in order to fire a cannon at a specific target. When he did this correctly, a cursor would hit the "fire" button.
Other researchers on the team (computer science and engineering undergraduates Matthew Bryan, Bryan Djunaedi, Joseph Wu and Alex Dadgar, along with bioengineering graduate student Dev Sarma) wrote the computer code for the study, which translated Rao’s brain signals into a command for Stocco’s brain.
While Rao did this, Stocco -- who ore noise-canceling earbuds and wasn’t looking at a computer screen back in his own laboratory -- involuntarily moved his right index finger to push the space bar on the keyboard in front of him (as if firing the cannon in the game).
“It was both exciting and eerie to watch an imagined action from my brain get translated into actual action by another brain,” Rao said. “This was basically a one-way flow of information from my brain to his. The next step is having a more equitable two-way conversation directly between the two brains.”
Previous studies have successfully connected the brains of two rats as well as a human and a rat, but never two humans.
The researchers assured that their technology could never allow one person to control another without their consent, and that it could one day be used for people with disabilities who cannot communicate in other ways.
“The Internet was a way to connect computers, and now it can be a way to connect brains,” Stocco said. “We want to take the knowledge of a brain and transmit it directly from brain to brain.”