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High-Capacity Brain Signal Reader Demonstrated

Brain circuits illustration

(HypnoArt, Pixabay)

20 July 2020. A brain-computer interface device is shown to record the highest volume of brain signals from lab animals and sheep, according to its developers. The system, called Argo by its inventor Paradromics Inc., a company in Austin, Texas, is described in a paper submitted for publication on Friday, now residing on the bioRxiv preprint server, but not yet peer-reviewed.

Paradromics creates devices that connect the human brain to computer systems, enabling transfers of data between neurons in the brain and computers for diagnosing and treating brain disorders. The five year-old company’s first application is an assisted speech communication system that translates thoughts to understandable spoken words, for people with paralysis or other disorders that prevent speech production.

A key element of the company’s devices is an electronic sensor that reads signals from neurons in the cerebral cortex, the outer layer of the brain that governs a person’s motor and sensory activity, and conscious thought, including high-level cognitive processes for language, decision-making, and creative endeavors. Matt Angle, Paradromics’ founder and CEO, and colleagues devised a system with high-density arrays of microwires made of platinum and irridium that sense, connect, and transfer data to and from complementary metal–oxide semiconductor, or CMOS amplifier circuits.

High-density microwire arrays connected to CMOS circuits, say the Paradromics authors, are not a new idea, but their system overcomes limitations that restricted earlier attempts at large-scale data transfers. In the paper, the authors describe a high-capacity device with the capability to simultaneously read and record signals from the cerebral cortex produced in more than 65,500 channels with a data transfer rate of 26 gigabits per second.

“We’ve essentially built a 26 Gbps data pipe that plugs into a living brain,” says Paradromics applied scientist Kunal Sahasrabuddhe in a company statement. “It’s an order of magnitude beyond the next best system, and is a major advance for the field.”

In proof-of-concept tests, the researchers read action signals from 791 neurons transmitting to 1,300 microwires in arrays in the cortex of lab rats, with the signals displayed in real time on a web-based oscilloscope and stored on a disk drive. The team then stimulated the auditory region of a sheep’s cortex with sounds, and recorded signals using a microwire array with more than 30,000 channels.

With this proof of concept, Paradromics is now refining the device for clinical use. “We’ve designed a smaller, wireless, implantable version for clinical use, which is already under development,” notes Angle. The company is aiming for 2023 to adapt the technology to a clinical implant.

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