Researchers at the University of Technology Sydney have developed an innovative new biosensor that could change the way we interact with technology.
The biosensor, developed by Professor Francesca Iacopi and her team at UTS's Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology, is based on the brain's electrical signals, which are converted into movements of autonomous robotic systems - systems that do not necessarily have to be tangible to the user, but could be controlled by the brain and its signals.
In fact, the user could control the machines by thought. This is a good idea, and it could mean a lot for the future of accessibility.
A sensor based on epitaxial graphene
"We were able to combine the best qualities of graphene, which is very biocompatible and highly conductive, with the best technology of silicon, which makes our biosensor very stable and robustsaid Professor Francesca Lacopi, head of the research team. As a result, the electrical signals sent by the brain can be reliably recorded and then significantly amplified, and the sensors can also be reliably used in harsh environments, increasing their potential for use in brain-machine interfaces."
Here's how it works: a sensor made of thin layers of carbon and silicon carbide on a silicon substrate is placed on the skin, where it can pick up brain impulses - on the face. These impulses are translated by a sensor, which transmits the translated impulses to a controlled technology that works the way messages are encoded.
Biosensors are not a new technology, but until now, graphene-based biosensors have been used in disposable applications, where delamination from sweat and skin moisture is a serious problem.
The UTS biosensor, on the other hand, can be used repeatedly in high-salt environments without the risk of delamination. It also improves contact resistance when imperfect contact between the skin and the sensor makes it difficult to detect electrical signals.
Improved contact resistance
"In our sensor, the contact resistance improves when the sensor is on the skin", said Professor Lakopi. "Over time, we have been able to reduce the initial contact resistance by more than 75 percent." He added: "As a result, electrical signals sent from the brain can be reliably recorded and then significantly amplified, and the sensors can also be reliably used in harsh environments, increasing their potential for use in brain-machine interfaces."
An application for autonomous cars?
This research is part of a larger collaboration to study how brain waves can be used to command and control autonomous vehicles. The work involves Professor Jacopie, internationally recognized for his work in nanotechnology and electronic materials, and UTS Professor Emeritus Chin-Teng Lin, a leading researcher in the field of brain-machine interfaces. It is funded with $1.2 million from the Defense Innovation Center.
If the research is successful, miniaturized and customized graphene-based sensors will be created that could find applications in the defense industry and beyond.