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DARPA is the sci-fi-sounding acronym for the US military�s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The unclassified stuff they�re working on is really ground-breaking. Who knows how futuristic the classified projects must be? 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.
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 addi-tion 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 accelerate that integrative process, the NESD program aims to recruit a diverse roster of leading industry stakeholders willing to offer state-of-the-art prototyping and manufacturing services and intellectual property to NESD researchers on a pre-competitive basis. In later phases of the program, these partners could help transition the resulting technologies into research and commercial application spaces.
DARPA anticipates investing up to $60 million in the NESD program over four years.
NESD is part of a broader portfolio of programs within DARPA that support President Obama�s brain initiative.
� For more information about DARPA�s work on the brain,
Date of upload: 20th Mar 2016
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