Neuralink’s first brain chip implant poses a problem – but there’s a solution

Neuralink’s first brain chip implant poses a problem – but there’s a solution

The first test subjects for Neuralink, Elon Musk’s brain chip implant startup, have experienced problems just weeks after they were inserted.

In a blog post, the company revealed that some of the threads connecting the chip were pulled from subject Noland Arbaugh’s brain, which hindered the speed and effectiveness of the implant’s data. The company offered few details about the incident — including how the thread came apart. But the company says it can make the implant more sensitive to further improve its performance.

Arbaugh, Neuralink’s first human patient, has been a quadriplegic since 2016 following a diving accident. He was implanted with the chip in January as part of a trial called the PRIME Study, short for Robotically Implanted Precision Brain-Computer Interface.

The purpose is to study the safety of its implantable and surgical robots and to test the functionality of its devices, the company said in a 2023 blog post about recruiting trial participants.

Experimental patients have a chip surgically placed in the part of the brain that controls the intention to move. The chip, installed by a robot, then records and sends brain signals to an application, with the initial goal being “to give people the ability to control a computer cursor or keyboard using only their mind,” Neuralink previously explained.

About a month after the surgery, Musk said Arbaugh could control a computer mouse with his brain after the chip was implanted.

Ultimately, Neuralink’s ambition is to use implants to connect the human brain to computers to help, for example, paralyzed people to control smartphones or computers or blind people to regain sight. Like existing brain-machine interfaces, the company’s implant will collect electrical signals sent by the brain and interpret them as actions.

Musk previously said that the company’s first product will be called Telepathy, adding that its initial users will be people who have lost the use of their limbs.

“Imagine if Stephen Hawking could communicate faster than a fast typist or an auctioneer. That’s the goal,” Musk wrote.

Consumers won’t have widespread access to technology anytime soon. Before Neuralink’s brain implants reach the wider market, they need wider regulatory approval.

Neuralink has received Food and Drug Administration clearance for the test and has notified the agency of the new issue, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the story.

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