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Enhancing data rates for brain implants

NSF Award:

CAREER: Low-energy circuits for implantable networks  (Utah State University)

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Brain-machine interfaces (BMI) offer the potential to one day communicate directly with the human cortex--the surface of the brain just beneath the skull. BMIs are especially promising because they could allow signals to bypass severe damage within the central nervous system.

However, to achieve this advance, the bandwidth or data highway used by electrode arrays, called cortical interfaces, must expand. A recent data transmission architecture designed by researchers at Utah State University increases data rates for cortical implant devices tenfold. In 2011, the fastest cortical interface operated at 10 million bits per second. These results could make transmission rates as fast as 100 million bits per second possible.

The researchers achieved their rate increase using circuits that compensate for timing mistakes in the implanted device. This will allow future cortical implants to interact with a larger number of neural sites than was previously possible. Potential therapeutic applications include restoration of vision for patients with optic nerve damage, and restoration of tactile sensation for amputees.

In the case of cortical interface stimulation of the brain's visual cortex, the patient "sees" a picture created by a pattern of electrical signals. In theory, this type of interface can restore vision by placing a camera on a pair of glasses. After receiving video data from the camera, a cortical interface device stimulates the patient's brain to perceive the image. To stimulate a high-quality image, data must be transmitted into the body at very high speeds.


  • information flow for a cortical implant device
Information flow for a cortical implant device.
Chris Winstead, Utah State University

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