DARPA Announces New Funding For a High-Resolution, Implantable Neural Interface

DARPA
Credit: DARPA

DARPA announced yesterday that it has awarded contracts to five research groups and one company as part of its Neural Engineering System Design program.

The six organizations have set up teams to work on the fundamental research and technologies for the Neural Engineering System Design program to achieve its vision of high-resolution neural interfaces that can restore human senses and enhance them.

Four of the research groups will work on vision and two will work on hearing and speech.

DARPA announced last year that main goal of the Neural Engineering System Design program is the creation of systems that can be implanted into the brain and provide precise communication between the brain and the digital world.

The brain–machine interface that DARPA envisions will convert the electrochemical signals of neurons in the brain into the ones and zeros of the digital world, and do so at far greater scale than has been achieved before.

Such an interface would allow us to treat damaged senses such as hearing and sight by directly imputing digital signals into the brain.

“The NESD program looks ahead to a future in which advanced neural devices offer improved fidelity, resolution, and precision sensory interface for therapeutic applications,” said Phillip Alvelda, the founding NESD Program Manager. “By increasing the capacity of advanced neural interfaces to engage more than one million neurons in parallel, NESD aims to enable rich two-way communication with the brain at a scale that will help deepen our understanding of that organ’s underlying biology, complexity, and function.”

Dr. Phillip Alvelda: The Future of Neural Interface

Phillip Alvelda says that while interfacing with one million neurons sounds like a lot he notes that, “A million neurons represents a miniscule percentage of the 86 billion neurons in the human brain. Its deeper complexities are going to remain a mystery for some time to come. But if we’re successful in delivering rich sensory signals directly to the brain, NESD will lay a broad foundation for new neurological therapies.”

“Significant technical challenges lie ahead, but the teams we assembled have formulated feasible plans to deliver coordinated breakthroughs across a range of disciplines and integrate those efforts into end-to-end systems,” Alvelda said.

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