Chinese Neuralink? State-funded lab to work on brain-machine interaction in China

More than 60 scientists work to convert research into practical applications too.
Ameya Paleja
Stock image representing a girl with a brain chip implant
Stock image representing a girl with a brain chip implant

PeterSchreibermedia/ iStock 

The government of China has provided funding to set up a leading laboratory to study brain-machine interfaces, much like Elon Musk's Neuralink has been working on. The recently inaugurated Sixth Haihe Laboratory in the northeast port city of Tianjin to "drive innovation and create new areas for economic growth", the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported last week.

Brain-machine interface technology helps connect the human brain to a device like a computer, which can be used to carry out tasks. Neuralink's monkey that plays pong without a controller is one of the most visual examples of the technology. However, the Elon Musk company has failed beyond a few trials, and now the Chinese government is looking to build similar technology independently.

Chinese lab to work on brain-machine interfaces

Apart from Neuralink, research institutes in the U.S., such as the University of California, Berkeley, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have led the development of technology in brain-machine interface for many years.

As it has done, with technologies such as hypersonic missiles, China is looking to break U.S. dominance by building a solid research foundation for developing intellectual capability in the area of brain-machine interface as well.

The Haihe laboratory in Tianjin has brought together more than 60 scientists, many of them with experience having worked overseas at one facility to research other allied areas for brain-machine interfaces.

For instance, some researchers are working on developing bionic tissues for the human body, while others are trying to figure out ways to detect and measure signals in the brain and improve communication between humans and machines and facilitate their working together.

Chinese Neuralink? State-funded lab to work on brain-machine interaction in China
Expertise in allied areas can help Chinese researchers make major advancement in brain-machine interfaces

Ding Ruiqing, the lead researcher, told a state-media newspaper on Science and Technology that the laboratory had the world's largest and most comprehensive patent pool for brain-machine interactions.

He also added that the laboratory's research was world-leading in three areas: electroencephalography (EEG) measuring accuracy, the quality of control instructions that can be reliably detected, and information transmission rate, the SCMP said in its report.

EEG measuring accuracy is essential as it measures electrical activity in the brain using electrodes placed in the scalp, allowing for real-time monitoring of brain-computer interfaces.

The researchers are looking to solve the bottleneck problem areas that will advance the technology and aim to convert the research findings into practical applications. While these applications might be a few years away, it undoubtedly increases competition for Neuralink which isn't doing well against its U.S.-based peers either, as Interesting Engineering reported last month.

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