Science & Tech

‘I Think It’s Going To Change The World’: Aggie Is Neuralink’s First Brain-Implant Participant

The device has provided former Texas A&M student Noland Arbaugh a new purpose — and new possibilities — by giving him the power to control a computer with his mind.
By Darren Benson, Texas A&M University Division of Marketing and Communications June 3, 2024

Noland Arbaugh, the first patient to receive a Neuralink, at his home in Yuma, Arizona.
Noland Arbaugh, a former Texas A&M University student, is the first person to test Neuralink’s brain chip implant. Arbaugh, who is paralyzed from the shoulders down, said the device, which allows him to control a computer with his thoughts, has enhanced his quality of life.

Photo by Rebecca Noble


Noland Arbaugh is comfortable in his role as a trail-blazer.

The 30-year-old Arizona resident is the first person to test Neuralink’s brain chip technology, which has given him the ability to control a computer with his thoughts. The coin-sized device was implanted through the top of Arbaugh’s skull in January.

Arbaugh, a member of the Texas A&M University Class of 2016, became paralyzed below the shoulders in a swimming accident eight years ago this month. In an interview with Texas A&M Today, he credited Neuralink with changing his life and said he’s confident it’s only the beginning.

“I think it’s going to change the world,” Arbaugh said. “It’s going to change everything we know about the brain, about medicine, about diseases of the brain, about motor function. And I’m hoping that at some point, people will not have to go through what I’ve gone through. That’s my end goal of this, to make it where no one would have to live being paralyzed ever again, no one would have to live with ALS or any of the other things that they’re planning on solving with this.”


Arbaugh was introduced to the world March 20 through a Neuralink social media post in which he demonstrated the device by playing chess, moving the game pieces on the computer with the power of his brain.

“It was like using ‘the force’ on the cursor, and I could get it to move wherever I wanted …, which was such a wild experience,” he said in the nine-minute video.

Two days later, Arbaugh posted a video on X of a presentation he made to Neuralink employees during a companywide meeting. Arbaugh — wearing a Texas A&M baseball cap — cracked jokes, told the employees how impressed he was with their work and outlined the journey he’s been on since applying for the clinical trial in September.

“I can’t express enough how awesome all of y’all are,” he said in the video. “I can only imagine where this is going to go.”

Since then, Arbaugh has spent more than 40 hours a week refining his abilities with the device.

“I just work all the time,” he said. “We do a lot of experiments to see what the implant is capable of, how I’m adapting to it. They’ve learned a lot. There are things that they had only hypothesized going in, and now they know more clearly. It’s all just to make the implant better for the next person.”

When he’s not helping Neuralink engineers test the device’s capabilities, he’s using it for daily tasks.

“I wake up every day and connect to it and I do a devotional,” he said. “I check my emails. I’ve been playing chess with it. I set my fantasy sports lineups with it. Starting and stopping an audio book is something that seems so simple, but I wasn’t able to do before. And this is just the tip-of-the-iceberg stuff. I think in the coming months, and as more people join the study, it’s only going to grow exponentially.”

Before the implant, Arbaugh said, there were days he felt burdensome and helpless. He used assistive devices, but nothing came easy. Writing a text or typing on a tablet were cumbersome and time-consuming, he said. He lives at home, relying on his mother, stepfather and younger brother as his primary caregivers.

“I’ve always felt like I couldn’t do enough,” he said, “and this has completely changed that.”

Brain Power

The device is implanted under the skull and contains 64 threads that connect electrodes to specific areas of the brain that control movement. It reads the signals from Arbaugh’s brain and translates them into commands for the computer, like moving a cursor. The device connects through Bluetooth to a Neuralink-developed app, which allows him to control the cursor on his computer.

Arbaugh can’t move his hands, but when he thinks about moving his hands as if he would be controlling a computer mouse, the device interprets his brain activity and moves the cursor based on his thoughts.

Arbaugh said when the cursor first started moving around based on him thinking about moving his hand, he wasn’t blown away because that aligned with the expectations of Neuralink’s engineers.

“It wasn’t something that seemed super sci-fi to me,” he said. “It just seemed like something that should happen. It just made sense that it would be able to take those signals and interpret them and then do what I was trying to do on a screen.”

That changed when Arbaugh stopped thinking about moving his hands and just focused on where he wanted the cursor to move on the screen.

“The day that really blew my mind is the day that I went from controlling the cursor by attempting to move my hand to just imagining where I wanted the cursor to move and it doing that,” he said. “I think it was a whole day of me just giggling and just saying, ‘This is the coolest thing I have ever seen.’ It was just so bizarre to me that I can think about the cursor moving on the screen and it would move.”

Arbaugh, who has done more than a dozen media interviews in the past month, said he can’t feel the device in his brain and has had no ill effects from it.

Cadets from Texas A&M University marching into Kyle Field in formation prior to a 2015 football game.
Noland Arbaugh, front right, marches into Kyle Field with members of Squadron 23 in Texas A&M University’s Corps of Cadets prior to a football game against Western Carolina on Nov. 14, 2015.

Texas A&M University Corps of Cadets

The New Frontier

DJ Seo, president and co-founder of Neuralink, called Arbaugh a neural astronaut.

“We tell them very clearly that there is no guarantee for any safety or benefits, so in many ways, everyone who’s applying to participate in this trial at this early stage are really true pioneers that understand that they are doing this mainly to contribute to the science and furthering the technology,” he said.

Seo said the first phase of the trial will last a year, with more participants expected to join in the coming months. With years of additional trials and development still ahead, Seo said the company is working with an ambitious goal and a sense of urgency.

“We are here to develop and build on a technology that we believe will be transformative to those in need, and we have extreme sense of responsibility to not only safely make this technology available, but also as quickly as possible,” he said. “Any day we wait, we feel that we’re holding back from those that can benefit from this. We take that sense of urgency extremely seriously and that comes from a place of wanting to help people as quickly as possible.”

Developing a brain-computer interface that controls cursor movement is just one technology to come from Elon Musk’s Neuralink, which is also developing a brain implant aimed at restoring vision for people who are blind. The company is also testing spinal implants that stimulate muscle movement, and brain-related sensory technology is in the works as well.

Other companies are working on similar devices and related technology. But controlling a computer cursor with the brain has gotten most of the attention, thanks to Arbaugh’s implant.

“If you think about using a computer and being able to do that by thinking, your world just opens up for you,” Seo said. “If you can master cursor and mouse control and keyboard control, you can literally do anything in the physical world.”

It hasn’t all gone perfectly. Several weeks after Arbaugh’s implant was announced, some of the threads retracted from their placement in his brain, decreasing the number of electrodes capturing neural signals and reducing the effectiveness of the device. Neuralink resolved the issue through software upgrades, enhancing the implant’s overall performance.

Such setbacks provide useful data points that Seo said help the team improve the device.

“We just have this intense obligation to make it better. If we’re going to make this available to people, we want to give people the best product ever,” he said. “By doing these trials, we’re understanding more collectively how these things work. It’s just a complex set of puzzles, and the more information we uncover, we have more data to be able to come up with very creative solutions.”

The company will continue learning and innovating while improving its implant technology, Seo said.

“Failure is not an option for us. We have to succeed because we have to help those millions of people,” he said.

The Aggie Family

Arbaugh didn’t know much about Texas A&M when he visited campus on a tour with friends as a high school student. While his classmates from Yuma, Arizona, didn’t end up enrolling, Arbaugh said he knew immediately that Aggieland was the right place for him.

“I absolutely fell in love with campus. I fell in love with the people, the scenery. I remember that tour so vividly,” he said. “I just decided that I really wanted to stay.”

As a way to offset out-of-state tuition, Arbaugh joined the Corps of Cadets, where he and Greg Bain were paired as roommates in Squadron 23. The two remain close friends.

Bain and several other buddies from Squadron 23 were quick to respond after Arbaugh’s accident, which happened in June 2016 as he was swimming in a lake in the Pocono Mountains of rural northern Pennsylvania, where he worked as a summer camp counselor. It was a job he found during his freshman year through an ad in The Battalion student newspaper.

A photo of a cadet on Kyle Field during a Midnight Yell Practice at Texas A&M University.
Arbaugh, seen at a Midnight Yell at Kyle Field during his junior year at Texas A&M, has maintained lasting friendships with his buddies from Squadron 23.

Courtesy of Noland Arbaugh

After his first summer there, Arbaugh persuaded of couple of friends from A&M to work there with him the next summer.

Following his junior year at A&M, “even more of my buddies went,” he said. “I couldn’t make it, but I went the next year, my senior year, which is when I had my accident.”

Arbaugh, an international studies major who was planning to return to A&M as a fifth-year senior, said the friendships formed with Bain and others in the Corps of Cadets extend beyond his time on campus.

“The Corps really opened up a lot of doors for me,” he said. “I think that it’s not perfect, but I wouldn’t take it back. If I had to do it all again, I would. I met some of my best buddies there. I loved it.”

Bain, now an Arkansas resident, played a key role in securing Arbaugh’s place in Neuralink history. It was Bain, a biology major who worked in a spinal cord research lab on campus after graduation, who told Arbaugh about the work Neuralink was doing and suggested he sign up for the trial.

After some research, Arbaugh said, he was all in on the idea. His confidence in the company and its technology, he said, is a credit to his faith.

“One of the few things that I’m still capable of is using my brain, so letting someone root around in my brain is scary,” he said. “But very early on, I started praying about all this to see if this was something that God wanted me to do, and I just felt his fingerprints all over it.”

Arbaugh said the application process was meticulous, with lengthy screenings and interviews.

“Everything just went so smoothly. I checked off every box, sort of to perfection,” he said. “I didn’t feel like God would bring me all of this way, prepare me for this, in order for something terrible to happen. And if he did, then it was going to be all for the better in the end. If something bad were to happen to me during surgery, then I could only assume it would help other people in some way.”

‘A Huge Blessing’

While Arbaugh recognizes there are no guarantees with the device, he hopes he is making a difference for others who will be getting future generations of the device.

“All I’ve wanted to do through this whole process is help people, progress this as far as I can, help out as much as I can so that the next people feel more comfortable about getting the implant,” he said. “So the next people don’t have to worry about how safe it is. And if they did have any sort of reservations about it, seeing me go through the process and seeing me succeed with it would lessen that in some way.”

The device has given him a sense of purpose and brought a lot of joy into his life, he said.

“I feel more useful now than maybe I ever have in my life. It’s opened up so many doors for me as far as what I believe is possible now, even as far as going back to school and finishing my degree. Before, I had no idea if that was going to be possible. And now that I have this implant, all I can think of is how much of a reality it is, how much more capable I am now.”

Arbaugh said he now has hope that he can eventually find a job and provide for himself. And simple things, like playing video games with his brother and his friends, have new meaning because of the device.

“It’s brought a lot of opportunity to connect with the people in my life,” he said. “It’s better in just about every way. I can’t think of one downside to this. It’s just been a huge blessing in my life.”

Media contact: Darren Benson,

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