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Aug 28, 2013 10:07 AM EDT

First Human-To-Human Brain Interface Performed At UW

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A researcher at University of Washington (UW) was able to control the hand movements of a fellow researcher by simply sending him a 'brain signal' via Internet.

Researchers believe that the experiment is the first successful example of human-to-human brain interface.

"The Internet was a way to connect computers, and now it can be a way to connect brains," researcher Andrea Stocco said. "We want to take the knowledge of the brain and transmit it directly from brain-to-brain."

On Aug.12, Rajesh Rao, researcher and a UW professor of computer science and engineering, sent a brain signal to Stocco (who was in his lab across UW campus) that made his finger move on a keyboard involuntarily.

The experiment was conducted with Rao playing a simple video game with his mind. He was wearing a cap with electrodes connected to an electroencephalography machine.

When he was supposed to fire a cannon at an object, he just merely visualized moving his right hand (being careful not to actually move his hand), causing a cursor to hit the "fire" button.

At the same time spontaneously, the thought transmitted to Stocco (who wore noise-canceling earbuds and wasn't looking at a computer screen) via the Internet and the electrode caps, whose right index finger involuntarily moved to press the space bar on the keyboard in front of him, as if firing the cannon.

When his hand moved involuntarily, Stocco experienced a feeling similar to that of a nervous tic.

 "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."

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 experiment, converting Rao's brain signals into a command for Stocco's brain.

"Brain-computer interface is something people have been talking about for a long, long time," said Chantel Prat, assistant professor in psychology at the UW's Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, and Stocco's wife and research partner who helped conduct the experiment. "We plugged a brain into the most complex computer anyone has ever studied, and that is another brain."

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