A group of researchers from the University of Michigan has created a new ultra-low-power brain implant. The scientists say that the estimated reduction in power requirements is about 90% for their new creations. Not only have they reduced the power requirements for the implants, they have also made them more accurate.
The discovery could lead to long-lasting brain implants that can both treat neurological disease and enable mind-controlled prosthetics and machines. The researchers say that currently interpreting brain signals into someone’s intentions requires a computer that is typically larger than the person and consumes lots of electrical power.
Reducing the power “by an order of magnitude” will eventually open the door to at-home brain-machine interfaces. Predicting complex behaviors such as the grasping of an item in hand using neuron activity requires the use of transcutaneous electrodes, which is direct wiring through the skin to the brain. Researchers say this is achievable with 100 electrodes that can capture 20,000 signals per second.
That type of data capture can reenable an arm that was paralyzed or allow someone with a prosthetic hand to feel how hard or soft an object is. However, placing electrodes directly into the brain poses a risk of infection and is impractical outside of the lab. There are wireless implants using integrated circuits that can gather and transmit about 16,000 signals per second, but they are yet to achieve consistent operation.
With the new device, the researchers compressed the brain signals. They focused on activity spikes that cross a certain threshold of power, allowing less data to be processed while still being able to predict firing neurons. The researchers found that compared to transcutaneous systems, their technique is just as accurate while taking in 1/10 as many signals. The team can take in 2000 versus 20,000 signals per second with the same accuracy. The discovery could someday change medicine for the better.