The Neural Engineering System Design (NESD) program aims to develop an implantable neural interface able to provide advanced signal resolution and data-transfer bandwidth between the brain and electronics.
This interface would serve as a translator, converting between the electrochemical language used by neurons in the brain and the ones and zeros that constitute the language of information technology. The goal is to achieve this communications link in a biocompatible device no larger than one cubic centimeter in size, roughly the volume of two nickels stacked back to back.
Achieving the program’s ambitious goals and ensuring that the envisioned devices will have the potential to be practical outside of a research setting will require integrated breakthroughs across numerous disciplines including neuroscience, synthetic biology, low-power electronics, photonics, medical device packaging and manufacturing, systems engineering, and clinical testing. In addition to the program’s hardware challenges, NESD researchers will be required to develop advanced mathematical and neuro-computation techniques to first transcode high-definition sensory information between electronic and cortical neuron representations and then compress and represent those data with minimal loss of fidelity and functionality.
The program stands to dramatically enhance research capabilities in neurotechnology and provide a foundation for new therapies. Among the program’s potential applications are devices that could compensate for deficits in sight or hearing by inputting digital auditory or visual information into the brain at a resolution and experiential quality far higher than is possible with current technology.
NESD is part of a broader portfolio of programs within DARPA that support President Obama’s brain initiative.
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