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Neurobionics and the brain–computer interface: current applications and future horizons

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Neurobionics is the science of directly integrating electronics with the nervous system to repair or substitute impaired functions. The brain–computer interface (BCI) is the linkage of the brain to computers through scalp, subdural or intracortical electrodes (Box 1). Development of neurobionic technologies requires interdisciplinary collaboration between specialists in medicine, science, engineering and information technology, and large multidisciplinary teams are needed to translate the findings of high performance BCIs from animals to humans.1

Neurobionics evolved out of Brindley and Lewin’s work in the 1960s, in which electrodes were placed over the cerebral cortex of a blind woman.24 Wireless stimulation of the electrodes induced phosphenes — spots of light appearing in the visual fields. This was followed in the 1970s by the work of Dobelle and colleagues, who provided electrical input to electrodes placed on the visual cortex of blind individuals via a camera mounted on spectacle frames.24 The cochlear implant, also developed in the 1960s and 1970s, is now a commercially successful 22-channel prosthesis for restoring hearing in deaf people with intact auditory nerves.5