Wyss Center team with ABILITY implant

An implantable brain-computer interface (BCI) to restore movement and communication

The Wyss Center is developing a fully implantable brain-computer interface (BCI) that can directly detect brain signals, and wirelessly transmit data through the scalp. The neural data is received by an external wearable device then transmitted to a computer via a wired connection. The computer decodes the brain signals in real time to control assistive devices such as prosthetics or to integrate with voice or communication systems. 

The system, called ABILITY which stands for Active Brain Implant Live Information Transfer sYstem, uses multiple channels to collect high-resolution brain data. 

Our technology development efforts are currently focused on the following applications:  

Enabling communication with people ‘locked-in’ as a result of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), as part of the INTRECOM project with UMC Utrecht Brain Center (the Netherlands), Graz University of Technology (Austria) and CorTec (Germany)

• Restoration of reach, grasp and walking in people following spinal cord injury or stroke

• Exploring the potential for use in neuromodulation applications 


In numbers

channels of neural data
50 Mbits/s
broadband neural data sensing and transmission
Preclinical trials underway with implant
The active fully implantable ABILITY medical device is designed for long-term implantation.

The ABILITY platform

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Implant and connected electrodes
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Data processor
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Data visualization

At the center of the ABILITY platform is an active, fully implantable medical device, designed for long-term implantation. Its design brings together state-of-the-art know-how and engineering to achieve numerous ‘firsts’ in the area of brain implantable devices. An exceptionally high channel count allows high resolution recording of brain signals while secure wireless transmission of broadband neural data (50 Mbits/s), battery-less operation and encapsulation in a protective housing with hermetic sealing and biocompatible materials will allow the implant to function in the body for years. The implant is similar in size to a cochlear implant and can be implanted with a simple subcutaneous procedure. 

The active implant is currently connected to two tiny arrays of microelectrodes that continuously record neural signals from the surface of the cortex. Hermetic feedthroughs allow the wires from the microelectrodes to enter and connect to the implant, while keeping moisture away from the sensitive internal electronics.

The device is also designed to be flexibly connected to a variety of other electrode technologies such as ECoG, our Epios electrodes, and flexible, stretchable and customizable arrays. 

ABILITY enters preclinical trial

A preclinical trial is now underway with the ABILITY brain-computer interface system. The study, which is being carried out in sheep, is a crucial step towards development of a fully implantable device to enable applications such as communication and movement for people with paralysis. The trial will assess the safety and feasibility of brain signal recording and wireless transfer of neural data to a wearable computer.

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The ABILITY device and an X-ray view of the device when implanted.

The ABILITY wearable

ABILITY comprises implantable and wearable components. Here, the colorful image on the left shows the printed circuit board layout of the USB adapter - part of the ABILITY wearable. The image on the right is the physical board used in the wearable. Components marked yellow and blue in the layout are deep, so not visible on the board.

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The central square - U5 - is the system coordinator. It is a field programable gate array (FPGA) that reads neural data recorded from implanted electrodes, manages the system’s power and communicates with the implant and the wearable components.

NeuroKey data processing software

The Wyss Center’s NeuroKey software is easily integrated with ABILITY. Developed as medical-grade software, the high-performance data analysis platform processes large amounts of information in real-time and enables rapid prototyping of clinical apps.

We collaborate with academic and clinical partners as well as a network of industrial technology partners.

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Where I work: Neuroengineering Project Manager, Shenandoah Montamat

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Shenandoah leads the ABILITY project. Here she reveals her first invention and describes the shared dream of the ABILITY team.


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