Global Technology - April 2016

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Scientists at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have developed a small smart chip that can be paired with neural implants for efficient wireless transmission of brain signals.

Neural implants when embedded in the brain can alleviate the debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease or give paraplegic people the ability to move their prosthetic limbs.

However, they currently need to be connected by wires to an external device outside the body. For a prosthetic patient, the neural implant is connected to a computer that decodes the brain signals so the artificial limb can move.

These external wires are not only cumbersome but the permanent openings which allow the wires into the brain increases the risk of infections.

The new chip created by the NTU scientists allows the transmission of brain data wirelessly and with high accuracy. The research team has tested the chip on data recorded from animal models, which showed that it could decode the brain’s signal to the hand and fingers with 95 percent accuracy.

What they have developed is a very versatile smart chip that can process data, analyze patterns and spot the difference.

This new design is about a hundred times more efficient than current processing chips on the market. It will lead to more compact medical wearable devices, such as portable ECG monitoring devices and neural implants, since we no longer need large batteries to power them.

To achieve high accuracy in decoding brain signals, implants require thousands of channels of raw data. To wirelessly transmit this large amount of data, more power is also needed which means either bigger batteries or more frequent recharging. This is not feasible as there is limited space in the brain for implants while frequent recharging means the implants cannot be used for long-term recording of signals. Current wireless implant prototypes thus suffer from a lack of accuracy as they lack the bandwidth to send out thousands of channels of raw data.

Designed to be extremely power-efficient, NTU’s patented smart chip analyses and decodes the thousands of signals from the neural implants in the brain, before compressing the results and sending it wirelessly to a small external receiver.

These findings were...

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