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Brain-Machine Integration Sparks Global Race for Technological Innovation

China is a key player in the global race for brain-machine integration technology. Chinese BCI firms are focusing on both invasive and noninvasive applications. Projections indicate significant growth in the global BCI market.

In a remarkable display of the power of technology, a 38-year-old tech worker who lost both his arms in a car accident is now able to control an intelligent bionic hand using his mind. This breakthrough in brain-computer interface (BCI) technology is just one example of how the boundaries between humans and machines are becoming increasingly blurred.

China, driven by both government support and private sector initiatives, is emerging as a key player in the global BCI race, second only to the United States in certain segments. Chinese BCI firms are focusing on both invasive and noninvasive applications of this emerging technology, while regulatory authorities are working to establish clear guidelines.

One notable development is the intelligent bionic hand developed by BrainCo, a startup incubated at Harvard University and founded by Chinese engineer Han Bicheng. This technology has already been used by para-athlete Xu Jialing, who carried the torch at the opening ceremony of the 4th Asian Para Games in Hangzhou last year.

BrainCo's bionic arm utilises BCI technology, combined with an array of electrode sensors worn like a bracelet on the user's arm. This allows individuals to interpret neural signals and control actions such as clenching fists or opening palms using their mind.

China is home to over 100 companies, like BrainCo, striving to excel in the BCI industry. According to a report from the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, China and the US together account for two-thirds of the 500 representative BCI companies worldwide. This solid foundation positions both countries as leaders in the industry's future.

Projections indicate significant growth in the BCI market. A report from the China Electronics Technology Standardization Institute predicts that global BCI sales revenue will reach $3.7 billion by 2027. By 2040, China's BCI industry is expected to exceed 120 billion yuan ($16.9 billion), including sales of related equipment.

The ultimate goal of BCI development is the full integration of the human brain and machine. With both China and the US driving progress in BCI technology, experts believe this goal could be achieved within the next 50 years. Hexi Yujin, partner and senior vice-president of BrainCo, emphasises that technological innovation drives industrial innovation, transforming into new productive forces for the industry.

BrainCo has already achieved mass production of BCI products, including bionic hands, sleep aids, and stress relievers that promote mindfulness. With over 100,000 units of high-precision brain-machine interfaces, BrainCo has made this frontier technology more accessible by controlling costs.

Recognising the potential of BCI, the Chinese government has released an action plan to drive the development of the industry. BCI has also been listed as one of China's top 10 future-oriented iconic products. Efforts will focus on breakthroughs in BCI technology, the development of key technologies and core devices, and the exploration of applications in fields such as medical rehabilitation, driverless driving, and virtual reality.

China has already made significant strides in BCI applications. In a clinical trial, a paralysed man had a wireless processor implanted in his brain, enabling him to regain motor skills. This success offers hope for patients with brain diseases related to spinal cord injury and epilepsy.

While China dominates the noninvasive BCI market, the US is more advanced in invasive BCI technology, where sensors are implanted inside the brain to extract information. Noninvasive BCI is safer and easier to implement but has limitations in replacing or enhancing lost bodily functions.

As the BCI industry progresses, safety and ethical considerations must be addressed. Experts emphasise the need for long-term compatibility and precautions against potential risks such as infections or privacy concerns arising from the collection of human brain signals.

  • China is a key player in the global race for brain-machine integration technology

  • Chinese BCI firms are focusing on both invasive and noninvasive applications

  • Projections indicate significant growth in the global BCI market


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