Neurograins may revolutionize the brain-computer interface

A lot of research has been conducted into the brain-computer interface (BCI). While there are numerous reasons for the research, one of the main benefits of having a brain-computer interface is helping the paralyzed to operate next-generation prosthetic devices. Researchers from Brown University have created very small implantable computer chips called Neurograins.Project researchers think their new neural interface could coordinate the activity of hundreds of extremely small brain sensors. Eventually, the technology could help scientists learn more about the brain and help users to utilize new therapeutic devices. One of the core components of a BCI is an implantable sensor able to capture electrical signals in the brain to use for driving devices like computers or prosthetics.

A typical BCI uses one or two sensors with the ability to sample a few hundred neurons. Scientists want a system able to gather data from a significantly larger group of brain cells. Brown researchers may have developed such a system with its Neurograins. The Neurograins system could create a network of independent and wireless neural sensors that are very small and work together.

Each sensor is about half the size of a grain of salt and can record or stimulate brain activity. Each sensor independently records electrical pulses made by neurons and routes the signals wirelessly to a central hub. That hub coordinates and processes the signals allowing the control of external devices. Researchers believe the system may one day allow the recording of brain signals with a level of detail unavailable today.

While developing the Neurograins was a significant challenge, another big challenge for the researchers was developing a communications hub to receive signals from the chips. The hub is a patch about the size of the thumbprint attached to the scalp that works similarly to a small cellular phone tower. The patch also wirelessly powers the Neurograin sensors.