The US military has unveiled a $65 million dollar project to develop a ‘brain chip’ that would allow humans to plug directly into computers.
According to DARPA officials, the new matrix-style technology could allow for the creation of ‘super soldiers’ and allow doctors to help blind people see again and paralysed people walk.
Daily Mail reports: It has selected its five grant recipients for the Neural Engineering System Design (NESD) program, which it began at the start of this year.
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Brown University, Columbia University, The Seeing and Hearing Foundation, the John B. Pierce Laboratory, Paradromics Inc and the University of California, Berkeley will all receive multi-million dollar grants.
‘These organizations have formed teams to develop the fundamental research and component technologies required to pursue the NESD vision of a high-resolution neural interface and integrate them to create and demonstrate working systems able to support potential future therapies for sensory restoration,’ official said.
Four of the teams will focus on vision and two will focus on aspects of hearing and speech.
The work has the potential to significantly advance scientists’ understanding of the neural underpinnings of vision, hearing, and speech and could eventually lead to new treatments for people living with sensory deficits.
‘The NESD program looks ahead to a future in which advanced neural devices offer improved fidelity, resolution, and precision sensory interface for therapeutic applications,’ said Phillip Alvelda, the founding NESD Program Manager.
‘By increasing the capacity of advanced neural interfaces to engage more than one million neurons in parallel, NESD aims to enable rich two-way communication with the brain at a scale that will help deepen our understanding of that organ’s underlying biology, complexity, and function.
‘A million neurons represents a miniscule percentage of the 86 billion neurons in the human brain.
‘Its deeper complexities are going to remain a mystery for some time to come. But if we’re successful in delivering rich sensory signals directly to the brain, NESD will lay a broad foundation for new neurological therapies. ‘
The program’s first year will focus on making fundamental breakthroughs in hardware, software, and neuroscience, and testing those advances in animals and cultured cells.
Phase II of the program calls for ongoing basic studies, along with progress in miniaturization and integration, with attention to possible pathways to regulatory approval for human safety testing of newly developed devices.
As part of that effort, researchers will cooperate with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to begin exploration of issues such as long-term safety, privacy, information security, compatibility with other devices, and the numerous other aspects regulators consider as they evaluate potential applications of new technologies.
‘The goal is to achieve this communications link in a biocompatible device no larger than one cubic centimeter in size, roughly the volume of two nickels stacked back to back,’ DARPA has said previously.
The program, Neural Engineering System Design (NESD), stands to dramatically enhance research capabilities in neurotechnology and provide a foundation for new therapies.
‘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.
‘Imagine what will become possible when we upgrade our tools to really open the channel between the human brain and modern electronics.’
Among the program’s potential applications are devices that could compensate for deficits in sight or hearing by feeding digital auditory or visual information into the brain at a resolution and experiential quality far higher than is possible with current technology.
Neural interfaces currently approved for human use squeeze a tremendous amount of information through just 100 channels, with each channel aggregating signals from tens of thousands of neurons at a time.
The result is noisy and imprecise.
In contrast, the NESD program aims to develop systems that can communicate clearly and individually with any of up to one million neurons in a given region of the brain.