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Neurotechnology
Photo: Justin Sanchez at CES demoing Sports Enhancement Neurotechnology

NeuroLife Sleeve Holds Promise of Improved Sports Performance

Posted by Justin Sanchez, Battelle Technical Fellow on Oct 29, 2020

At Battelle, we’ve been on the leading edge of neurotechnology research for more than a decade through our development of NeuroLife®. And while the field is still in its early stages, we’re making significant progress toward real products that people across the world can use in their everyday lives.  

As we developed NeuroLife, we knew a new kind of technology was needed to read and write directly into the nervous system. This was especially true when we pioneered the science to translate thoughts into action and reanimate hand movement in people living with arm paralysis through a wearable sleeve neurotechnology and a brain-computer interface. Our new sleeve offers, for the first time, the technology to precisely measure with high resolution the nerves and muscles of the forearm in real time so that targeted stimulation interventions can be administered to recreate complex, dexterous hand movements.

This was the breakthrough needed to transfer thoughts into action. Since there was nothing on the market 10 years ago, we invented our own from scratch. It comprises more than 100 sensors and all of the supporting electronics and algorithms to automatically calibrate to and actuate anybody’s arm. Through the years we have improved upon its design and today our wearable arm neural interface has a sleek, form fitting design, is constructed with comfortable materials, zips on in seconds, and can be worn comfortably throughout the day.

While the early days of our work in this area focused on medical applications, we realize there are many more uses beyond the lab/clinic. We are actively spanning into commercial/consumer use. Those same 100+ sensors that were used to reanimate a paralyzed hand could also be used to assess and interpret an able-bodied person’s hand and arm function. For the average person, the nerves and muscles of the arm no longer have to be an unreadable “black box.” With our sleeve, they are now accessible–especially in the context of human performance.

image of Battelle NeuroLife sleeve providing haptic feedback Our new sleeve offers, for the first time, the technology to precisely measure with high resolution the nerves and muscles of the forearm in real time so that targeted stimulation interventions can be administered to recreate complex, dexterous hand movements.

 

Ever hear that it takes 10,000 reps of an activity to become an expert? Ever wonder what kind of muscle/nerve activity you need to generate to perform like a pro? What about fatigue and injury? The Battelle NeuroLife sleeve enables us to take the mystery out of these questions and empower people to have the knowledge and tools they need to be their best.  

As we build the functionality of continuous feedback into the sleeve, we can assess, correct, and even transfer muscle activity from one person to another. Using recorded neural activity, an individual’s function can be tracked over time and moreover—from  an expert’s perspective—can be shaped and written directly through the sleeve, training the muscles and speeding muscle memory so the user improves dramatically. Want to learn to take that expert shot? What if you were wearing sleeves on your arms that was stimulating your muscles to generate the perfect hand motion for a free throw? Shoot three-pointers with the same release as Steph Curry? Work your hands like Tiger Woods during a golf swing? These things are possible.  


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The NeuroLife sleeve works by stimulating and monitoring the moment-to-moment activations of nerves and muscles. It will sense whether the user is making the right motions or not, triggering a feedback loop that enhances performance by stimulating the muscles to more beneficial and precise hand and wrist movements.  

This technology also will give others a view of what’s going on inside your body. The sleeve is being further developed to a capability of assessing fatigue and muscle response to training. Today, when fatigue sets in, only you are aware of how tired you are. Battelle’s sleeve will render an actual assessment of muscles and nerves using electromyograms, detecting changes over time.

The potential of such feedback for athletes, compared to today’s disconnected style of training, is dramatic. What if your coach didn’t have to guess when you were getting tired, using the wrong muscles to compensate for ones that have been temporarily spent?

We are on the verge of a whole new field of research, so new that the industry hasn’t even had a chance to forecast how it will develop. But it is certainly here and we’ve got the highest levels of confidence that people will soon experience the connection of their brains to a larger world in ways not even Jules Verne would’ve imagined.

Justin Sanchez is a Battelle Technical Fellow and an expert in neurotechnology.

 

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