DARPA is leading the development of an improved neural implant for connecting the brain to computers, using advances neuroscience, synthetic biology, low-power electronics, photonics and medical manufacturing. Their goal is to to dramatically enhance neurotechnology research capabilities and provide a foundation for new therapies.
The Neural Engineering System Design program aims to produce a miniaturized brain implant, smaller than one cubic centimeter in size, to improve data transfer. The device would translate between digital systems and the electrochemical “language” of the brain for more efficient communication.
NESD is part of the BRAIN initiative and is led by Phillip Alvelda, who is “upgrading tools to really open the channel between the human brain and modern electronics.”
Current neural interfaces use approximately 100 channels, each aggregating signals from tens of thousands of neurons. The NESD program aims to develop technology to communicate directly with one million individual neurons in a brain region.
Initial applications will include devices for those with sight or hearing impairments. The system could feed digital auditory or visual information to the brain with greater resolution and clarity than current technology.
Phillip Alveda will discuss this and other DARPA initiatives at ApplySci’s NeuroTech San Francisco conference on April 6th.
Wearable Tech + Digital Health San Francisco – April 5, 2016 @ the Mission Bay Conference Center
NeuroTech San Francisco – April 6, 2016 @ the Mission Bay Conference Center
Wearable Tech + Digital Health NYC – June 7, 2016 @ the New York Academy of Sciences
NeuroTech NYC – June 8, 2016 @ the New York Academy of Sciences
DARPA is in the early stages of developing a “cortical modem” which would enable a simple visual display via a direct interface to the visual cortex. Its projected cost is 10 US Dollars.
The project lead is Dr Phillip Alvelda. It was built on Karl Deisseroth‘s optogenetics research — studying and controlling specified cells within living tissue by shining light on them.
While exciting, the realization of the technology is far off, having only been tested on animals.
Wearable Tech + Digital Health NYC 2015 – June 30 @ New York Academy of Sciences
DARPA continues to build technology with academic partners to enable amputees to control prosthetic limbs with their minds. Examples follow:
Researchers at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago demonstrated a type of peripheral interface called targeted muscle re-innervation (TMR). By rewiring nerves from amputated limbs, new interfaces allow for prosthetic control with existing muscles.
Researchers at Case Western Reserve University used a flat interface nerve electrode (FINE) to demonstrate direct sensory feedback. By interfacing with residual nerves in the patient’s partial limb, some sense of touch by the fingers is restored. Other existing prosthetic limb control systems rely solely on visual feedback. Unlike visual feedback, direct sensory feedback allows patients to move a hand without keeping their eyes on it—enabling simple tasks, like searching a bag for small items, not possible with today’s prosthetics.