Antonio Regalado recently published a stellar longform piece about the current state of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), and the state is looking up. Earlier this month, we witnessed the demonstration of a mind-controlled exoskeleton at the World Cup. (Even if most television networks managed to ignore it.) Clinical trials for robotic arms and legs are underway, and plenty of research dollars are being pumped into neuroengineering labs.
All told, the future isn't looking too shabby for the science at play. Amidst the science, though, there's a finer point that Regalado pushes through—the economics of BCIs are pretty tricky. With a relatively small consumer base for tetraplegia-targeted BCIs, it seems likely that if any BCI company is going to have any serious success, they're going to need a non-medical product line, as well.
Anyone looking for a business partner?
For brain-controlled computers to become a medical product, there has to be an economic rationale, and the risks must be offset by the reward. So far, Scheuermann’s case has come closest to showing that these conditions can be met. In 2013, the Pittsburgh team reported its work with Scheuermann in the medical journal the Lancet. After two weeks, they reported, she could move the robot arm in three dimensions. Within a few months, she could make seven movements, including rotating Hector’s hand and moving the thumb. At one point, she was filmed feeding herself a bite of a chocolate bar, a goal she had set for herself.