Brain-machine integration spawns global biz race

China, US seek lead in emerging industry with Chinese firms wresting early edge

By CHENG YU | Updated: 2024-04-29 07:47
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A visitor looks at brain-computer integration rehabilitation equipment on display during an expo in Beijing.

"We are the first in the industry to achieve mass production of BCI products, with over 100,000 units of high-precision single-item brain-machine interfaces, which means we are able to control the cost of such frontier technology and make it more accessible."

At the Zhongguancun Forum, a tech event in Beijing last week, the national capital released an action plan on BCI and proposed a series of targeted measures that aim to drive the development of the BCI industry.

BCI has also been listed as one of China's top 10 iconic products of future-oriented industries in an opinion-based list compiled by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and six other ministries last year.

The list made it clear that accelerated efforts will be made for breakthroughs in BCI, to develop key technologies and core devices such as BCI chips and neural models, a number of easy-to-use and safe BCI products, and encourage exploration of applications in fields such as medical rehabilitation, driverless driving and virtual reality.

In February, a Chinese clinical team from Xuanwu Hospital implanted a wireless processor into the brain of a paralyzed man. This helped him to recover his motor skills. Now, he can drink a bottle of water on his own — one of his many abilities that have been restored.

Zhao Guoguang, a professor at Xuanwu Hospital, said the move marked an important step for China on BCI applications, which will hopefully help patients with brain diseases related to spinal cord injury and epilepsy to recover, and offers the possibility of realizing fusion of brain-computer intelligence.

The patient, who received the implant in a clinical trial in October 2023, had suffered a complete spinal cord injury in a car mishap. He had been a quadriplegic, or paralyzed in all four limbs, for 14 years.

After three months of home training, the patient is now capable of fetching a bottle of water on his own via an air-filled glove driven by brain waves, with his grasping accuracy rate exceeding 90 percent.

The implantable device, called Neural Electronic Opportunity, was developed by a group of scientists from Tsinghua University. Its internal part is powered by the external part through the scalp, and it receives neural signals before transmitting them to a computer or cellphone.

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