DARPA has announced a program aimed at developing a cutting edge neural implant capable of forming a communication bridge between a human brain and electronic devices. It is hoped that technology developed under the Neural Engineering System Design program will have a wide range of applications in research and healthcare.
While modern computing continues to develop at a staggering pace, we're yet to develop a system that's truly capable of interfacing with the complexities of the human brain. DARPA's new program aims to improve things, dramatically enhancing the capabilities of neurotechnology.
"Today's best brain-computer interface systems are like two supercomputers trying to talk to each other using an old 300-baud modem," said Phillip Alvelda, manager of the NESD program. "Imagine what will become possible when we upgrade our tools to really open the channel between the human brain and modern electronics."
Neural interfaces currently employed in research programs compress vast amounts of information through 100 channels, each of which receives sensory information sent from tens of thousands of neurons. Unsurprisingly, this doesn't lead to the best results, with readings regularly coming through inaccurate and noisy.
DARPA envisions the next generation of the technology to be far more precise, leading the way with an implantable neural interface system with the capacity to connect and receive data from any one of up to a million neurons, all while measuring no more than one cubic centimeter in size.
The challenges faced by the program, both in terms of research and complexity in hardware design, are phenomenal. According to the agency, in order to achieve its goals, significant breakthroughs will have to be made in a wide range of scientific fields, from synthetic biology to neuroscience and low-power electronics. NESD researchers will work to develop complex, novel techniques designed to transcode the electrochemical signals transmitted by neurons in the brain, and present the data with the highest possible fidelity.
If the program does prove successful, then there will be a wide array of potential applications, from opening up new avenues in neurotechnology, utilizing the sensory data collected by the implant to significantly improve a patient's sight or hearing, and new treatment options for therapy patients.