Posts Tagged ‘Neural Interface’

Funded by a Department of Defense initiative dedicated to audacious challenges and intense time schedules, the Neurophotonics Research Center at Southern Methodist University will develop two-way fiber optic communication between  prosthetic limbs and peripheral nerves.

This connection will be key to operating realistic robotic arms, legs and hands that not only move like the real thing, but also “feel” sensations like pressure and heat.

Successful completion of the fiber optic link will allow for sending signals seamlessly back and forth between the brain and artificial limbs, allowing amputees revolutionary freedom of movement and agility.

Partners in the Neurophotonics Research Center also envision man-to-machine applications that extend far beyond prosthetics, leading to medical breakthroughs like brain implants for the control of tremors, neuro-modulators for chronic pain management and implants for patients with spinal cord injuries.

The researchers believe their new technologies can ultimately provide the solution to the kind of injury that left actor Christopher Reeve paralyzed after a horse riding accident. “This technology has the potential to patch the spinal cord above and below a spinal injury,” said Marc Christensen, center director and electrical engineering chair in SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering. “Someday, we will get there.”

A link compatible with living tissue

The goal of the Neurophotonics Research Center is to develop a link compatible with living tissue that will connect powerful computer technologies to the human nervous system through hundreds or even thousands of sensors embedded in a single fiber. Unlike experimental electronic nerve interfaces made of metal, fiber optic technology would not be rejected or destroyed by the body’s immune system.

“Enhancing human performance with modern digital technologies is one of the great frontiers in engineering,” said Christensen. “Providing this kind of port to the nervous system will enable not only realistic prosthetic limbs, but also can be applied to treat spinal cord injuries and an array of neurological disorders.”

The center brings together researchers from SMU, Vanderbilt University, Case Western Reserve University, the University of Texas at Dallas and the University of North Texas. The Neurophotonics Research Center’s industrial partners include Lockheed Martin (Aculight), Plexon, Texas Instruments, National Instruments and MRRA.

Integrated system at cellular level

Together, this group of university and industry researchers will develop and demonstrate new increasingly sophisticated two-way communication connections to the nervous system. Every movement or sensation a human being is capable of has a nerve signal at its root. “The reason we feel heat is because a nerve is stimulated, telling the brain there’s heat there,” Christensen said.

The center formed around a challenge from the industrial partners to build a fiber optic sensor scaled for individual nerve signals: “Team members have been developing the individual pieces of the solution over the past few years, but with this new federal funding we are able to push the technology forward into an integrated system that works at the cellular level,” Christensen said.

The research builds on partner universities’ recent advances in light stimulation of individual nerve cells and new, extraordinarily sensitive optical sensors being developed at SMU. Volkan Otugen, SMU site director for the center and Lyle School mechanical engineering chair, has pioneered research on tiny spherical devices that sense the smallest of signals utilizing a concept known as “whispering gallery modes.” A whispering gallery is an enclosed circular or elliptical area, like that found beneath an architectural dome, in which whispers can be heard clearly on the other side of the space.

Fiber optic interface to link robotic limbs, human brain

Looks like a Groundbreaking experiment.
clipped from www.engadget.com

It looks like a group of researchers from the University of Reading are making a solid run at the title of mad scientists of the year (in the best sense, of course), with them now boasting that they’ve developed a robot that’s controlled by a “biological brain.”
That’s not quite the sci-fi sight you may be imagining, however (though it’s close), with it instead made up of some 300,000 neurons taken from the neural cortex of a rat fetus, which are contained in multi electrode array that packs 60 electrodes to pick up the signals generated by the cells and, in turn, control the robot.
clipped from www.physorg.com
Because the brain is living tissue, it must be housed in a special temperature-controlled unit — it communicates with its “body” via a Bluetooth radio link.
The robot has no additional control from a human or computer.
From the very start, the neurons get busy. “Within about 24 hours, they start sending out feelers to each other and making connections,”
“Within a week we get some spontaneous firings and brain-like activity” similar to what happens in a normal rat — or human — brain, he added.
But without external stimulation, the brain will wither and die within a couple of months.
“Now we are looking at how best to teach it to behave in certain ways,” explained Warwick.

To some extent, Gordon learns by itself. When it hits a wall, for example, it gets an electrical stimulation from the robot’s sensors. As it confronts similar situations, it learns by habit.