The US Department of Defense selected a small San Jose-based company, Paradromics Inc., to lead one of six consortia it is backing with $65 million to develop technologies able to record from one million individual neurons inside a human brain simultaneously.
Recording from large numbers of neurons is essential if engineers are ever to create a seamless, high-throughput data link between the human brain and computers, including to restore lost senses.
Paradromics wants to use the high bandwidth brain computer interface to cure blindness, deafness, paralysis, ALS, and amputation. Paradromics Neuroscience Research System would redefine “large–scale” by offering over 65,000, 32 kHz microwire electrodes for massively–parallel neural recordings. The system would be capable of handling over ~ 8 gigabits per second of raw data generated by the sensor. It can simultaneously store the data to disk and show a real–time preview of the data.
The heart of the Paradromics system is a custom CMOS array of low–noise, high–speed amplifiers to which bundles of microwire electrodes are connected. Each microwire consists of a metal–in–glass fiber with an outer diameter of less than 20 microns.
Paradromics is targeting having a first working product in the first quarter of 2018. Paradromics is developing the Neural Input–Output Bus, or “NIOB” (million neuron connection device), which is scheduled for clinical trials in 2021. The NIOB device will act as a cortical modem that will be capable of reading and stimulating brain activity with an effective data rate of over 1 Gbps. Together with our private and public partners for our first application we will be providing the NIOB to patients with ALS who have lost the ability to speak, allowing them to communicate fluently through the aid of the implant.
In April, Elon Musk said he invested in a $100 million brain-computer interface company called Neuralink. Facebook followed up by saying that it had started work on a thought-to-text device to let people silently compose e-mails or posts.
Cutting-edge technologies could make a “brain modem” really possible. They include flexible circuits that can be layered onto the brain, sand-sized wireless “neurograins,” and holographic microscopes able to observe thousands of neurons at once. Two other projects aim at restoring vision with light-emitting diodes covering the brain’s visual cortex.
Brain-computer interfaces convey information out of the brain using electronics. Here, a close-up shows how miniature wires are bonded together to create an electrical contact. This is the end that stays outside the brain.
The DOD funded implant project has a goal of an interface not much bigger than a nickel and it must record from 1 million neurons and also be able to send signal back into the brain.
So far scientists have never managed to simultaneously record from more than a few hundred at once in a living human brain, which has about 80 billion neurons in all.
In the 1960s an obscure Moldovan company had developed a way to stretch hot metal and mass produce coils of extremely thin insulated wires, just 20 microns thick.
The technique is used to create antennas and to make magnetic wires that can be sewn into towels by hotels to prevent customers from stealing them.
Paradromics orders spools of the wire and then bundles strands together in cords that are 10,000 wires thick. One end of the wires can be sharpened, creating a brush-like surface that can penetrate the brain like needles would. Angle says the thickness of the wires is calibrated so that it is strong enough not to buckle as it is pushed into the brain, but thin enough not to cause much damage.
The other ends of the wires are glued together, polished, and then pressed onto a microprocessor with tens of thousands of randomly spaced “landing pads,” some of which bond to the wires.
A first goal is a high-density connection to the speech center of the brain that could let the company tap into what words a person is thinking of saying. Afterwards they will connect to sections of the brains that control other senses.