Brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) are poised to become a part of everyday life by the 2040s. This prediction comes from Associate Professor Mohit Shivdasani from the department of biomedical engineering at UNSW Sydney.
Commonly known as ‘smartbrains,’ BMIs represent a direct communication pathway between the brain’s electrical activity and external devices, such as computers or robotic limbs. Shivdasani, speaking on the UNSW ‘Engineering the Future of Biomedical Engineering’ podcast, emphasized the rapid advancements in this field and the potential for widespread application in the near future.
Shivdasani’s remarks reflect a shift from fiction to reality. The journey began in 2006 at Brown University, where researchers successfully implemented electrodes in the motor cortex of two paralyzed individuals, enabling them to control a robotic arm and a computer cursor solely through thought.
While commercial use of BMIs outside laboratory settings remains a future prospect, advancements in chip technology and medical devices signal that this future is not far off. Shivdasani’s own research focuses on enhancing bionic eyes for vision restoration and developing devices for chronic pain and inflammatory bowel disease.
The broad implementation of BMIs could dramatically improve the quality of life for many, especially those with mobility and sensory limitations. Shivdasani highlights the potential of BMIs to read thoughts and translate them into actions, such as powering an exoskeleton or enabling a patient to drive their wheelchair.
Patient-centric innovation is also a key focus, with Shivdasani recalling conversations with blind patients about their expectations from bionic eyes, ranging from seeing loved ones to navigating shopping centers more independently.
Complementing Shivdasani on the podcast was Claire Bridges, a PhD candidate at UNSW, who discussed the future of connected health and biomedical engineering. She emphasized the expansion of telehealth and the use of wearable and implantable devices, like smartwatches and blood glucose monitors, for continuous health monitoring and data collection.
Bridges anticipates that advancements in technology and AI will enable more comprehensive monitoring of various health parameters. This progress is expected to lead to earlier diagnoses and more effective preventative healthcare, ultimately reducing the years spent in poor health by the average Australian.
These developments in BMIs and connected health technologies represent a significant leap forward in biomedical engineering, promising not only to enhance healthcare delivery but also to fundamentally alter our interaction with medical technology.