BRAINTOBRAIN
UW students Darby Losey, left, and Jose Ceballos are positioned in two different buildings on campus as they would be during a brain-to-brain interface demonstration. The sender, left, thinks about firing a cannon at various points throughout a computer game. That signal is sent over the Web directly to the brain of the receiver, right, whose hand hits a touchpad to fire the cannon.Mary Levin, University of Washington

University of Washington researchers have successfully replicated a direct brain-to-brain connection through the internet between three pairs of people following the team's initial demonstration a year ago.

The technique brings closer the possibility some day of directly transferring knowledge from a tutor to a student, says the team.

"The new study brings our brain-to-brain interfacing paradigm from an initial demonstration to something that is closer to a deliverable technology," said co-author Andrea Stocco, a research assistant professor of psychology and a researcher at UW's Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences.

Rajesh Rao, a UW associate professor of computer science and engineering, was the lead author.

Similar studies done by other research groups have not accomplished the same in real time and online, claim the UW team.

Signals from the brain of one person were transmitted over the internet to the brain of another person who then carried out the action thought out by the first.

The first participant is hooked to an electroencephalography machine that reads brain activity and sends electrical pulses via the Web to the second participant, who is wearing a swim cap with a transcranial magnetic stimulation coil, placed near the part of the brain that controls hand movements.

Even as the first participant thinks of a move on the computer game, the second executes it.

The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Computer game

Three pairs of participants took part in the experiment with the pair seated in different buildings.

Each sender had to defend a city by firing a cannon and intercepting rockets launched by a pirate ship. But all they could do was "think" the move.

Each receiver sat in a dark room unable to see the computer game and acting purely on the brain signals received.
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While the accuracy varied among the pairs, ranging from 25 to 83%, the researchers believe the misses mostly were due to a sender failing to accurately execute the thought to send the "fire" command.

The UW research team is taking the work a step further in an attempt to decode and transmit more complex brain processes, such as concepts, thoughts and rules.

They are also exploring how to influence brain waves that correspond with alertness or sleepiness, something that could help a sleepy pilot's brain to trigger alertness in the co-pilot.