The US Federal Communications Commission has announced it will approve a $300m proposal for a brain-machine interface (BMI) for the blind and visually impaired.
The agency said the BMI is designed to improve the ability of people to function independently and be more confident in their own abilities.
The BMI could also provide a means to assist people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the agency said in a statement.
“This technology is a potential breakthrough in the treatment of a disability and will have the potential to revolutionise the lives of millions of people in the future,” FCC chairman Ajit Pai said.
“While some will be excited about the prospect of a new, high-tech vision, others will be less enthused.
We must remember that we are not yet there.”
The BMI was originally proposed as part of the US Department of Defense (DoD) programme to develop a fully functional prosthetic arm.
The DoD initially announced plans for the BMI in 2015, but withdrew the project when it found that it was too expensive and too difficult to develop.
“BMI has proven to be a very robust and effective option for developing fully functional, non-invasive prosthetic limbs and we are confident that the FDA will approve the BMI for clinical use in the near future,” the DoD said at the time.
“We believe that the technology offers an unprecedented opportunity for the world to improve its standard of living by improving the lives and physical condition of people with disabilities.”
The DoDs BMI program was suspended in the late-2016.
In January, a US court ruled that the BMI was legal and would not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.
But the FDA has now rejected the BMI, saying that it does not meet its regulatory criteria.
“The FDA is aware that the proposed FDA-approved BMI is currently not clinically effective, as the BMI does not fully satisfy the requirements for a ‘approved’ product under the ADA,” the agency wrote in a letter to the BMI company.
“Therefore, the FDA is evaluating whether to approve the proposed BMI for a future clinical application.”
The agency also said the proposed technology does not offer any “essential benefits” to people with a disability, including the ability to perform tasks that require more dexterity and control.
“It would be premature to consider the BMI as a replacement for current or future medical treatments,” the FDA said.
The US government has long had plans to develop the BMI.
In May, a senior US government official told the Wall Street Journal that the government was “committed” to developing the BMI but that the project was in “a state of flux”.
“We’re not done yet,” the official said.
In a separate statement, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) said it would consider the request.
“If approved, the proposed Biomedical Device would provide a novel tool for enhancing human health and well-being, and provide important benefits to people of all ages,” the NIH said.
It said that it would consult with disability and public health professionals in the United States, Europe and Japan, as well as stakeholders from other countries, to ensure the safety of the BMI and the US government’s overall health and safety policies.