Welcome to the World of Neural Engineering

A new DARPA program called Neural Engineering System Design (NESD) is seeking to bridge the gap between the human brain and our ever-advancing digital worlds. Ultimately, they are trying to do it through an implantable neural interface that offers unprecedented resolution and data-transfer bandwidth between the human brain and technological devices.

Essentially, the interface serves as a translator that switches from the electrochemical language that neurons use in human brains and the binary language composed of ones and zeroes used in information technology.

The researchers are now looking into achieving this link through the development of a biocompatible device.

“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, the NESD program manager, in the press release. “Imagine what will become possible when we upgrade our tools to really open the channel between the human brain and modern electronics.”

Potential Applications

Should the interface come to fruition, devices using it could communicate clearly and individually with any of up to one million neurons in the brain and could see practical applications that could help aid deficits in sight of hearing by feeding visual and auditory information into the brain.

DARPA published a synopsis of the program on their website:

“Achieving the program’s ambitious goals and ensuring that the envisioned devices will have the potential to be practical outside of a research setting will require integrated breakthroughs across numerous disciplines including neuroscience, synthetic biology, low-power electronics, photonics, medical device packaging and manufacturing, systems engineering, and clinical testing. In addition to the program’s hardware challenges, NESD researchers will be required to develop advanced mathematical and neuro-computation techniques to first transcode high-definition sensory information between electronic and cortical neuron representations and then compress and represent those data with minimal loss of fidelity and functionality,”

To move the project forward, the program will be hiring a diverse roster of stakeholders and experts to create the prototype. Eventually, these partners can also help transition the study into commercial application.

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