The prognosis was five years: that’s how long the computer-brain interface in Nathan Copeland’s head should last. The human body doesn’t like integrated electronics and is constantly working against it, but after seven years and three months, Copeland’s ‘connector’ still works. He is paralyzed from the chest and can play computer games and control a robotic arm by thinking. The 36-year-old therefore describes himself as a »cyborg«.
Paralyzed since 2004, a “cyborg” since 2014
2004 was a fateful year for Nathan Copeland. In a serious car accident, he suffered such serious injuries that he was paralyzed. Bad as it was for him, it also opened up an opportunity that not everyone has: In a 2014 study at the University of Pittsburgh, he received special brain implants that gave him access to various electronic devices. People with severe spinal cord injuries should regain some of their abilities with this new technique. He had to undergo brain surgery for this, but that didn’t stop him.
»I just go with the flow«
Today Copeland says, “I’m super laid back, I just go with the flow.” He would have the surgery redone any time, and he’s not worried that the devices could give up quickly. Performance has already declined, but new implants are under development that can last up to 30 years. He himself has four small interfaces in his brain – and has lived with these devices longer than any other human being. Two of the Utah Arrays are located in the brain region responsible for motor functions, two others access the sense of touch. A conductive material surrounding the hairbrush-like implants transmits neuronal signals. They are used in digital commands and in this way can, for example, control prostheses.
However, the man needs a connection to the head for this, which is wired. It does indeed seem strangely surreal, like in a cyborg story. Copeland has not experienced any side effects, nor have there been any complications. As a paralyzed person, he clearly enjoys being able to interact with his surroundings more. Nobody knows how long this will last.