Aussie Tech Breakthrough Makes DARPA’s Thought-controlled Weapons a Practical Reality
Partially funded by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia have developed a breakthrough device that will ease the path toward the long sought after cybernetics goal of easily implanting a brain machine interface (BMI) in the human brain.
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The military applications of this technology will see "mind prosthetic" devices more easily implanted into the brain using the Australian device called a "stentrode." This device will make it safer to implant microchips in the brain. Development of this minimally invasive implant is a key step in the widespread use of thought-controlled prosthetics.
Once perfected, the stentrode could also allow U.S. soldiers to move and react faster on the battlefield and should eventually allow them to "talk to" and control futuristic mind-controlled weapons via BMI chips in their brains.
The size of a matchstick, the stentrode can achieve the BMI necessary for thought-controlled prosthetic devices. Neural implants currently in use require invasive surgery.
On the other hand, the stentrode can be attached to the brain using catheter angiography. This procedure passes the device through blood vessels in the neck and into the brain without cutting open the skull.
The device was developed by a team at the Vascular Bionics Laboratory at the University of Melbourne led by neurologist Thomas Oxley. The Australians plan to begin human trials of the device in 2017. They believe thought-controlled prosthetic limbs and wheelchairs activated by their stentrode might be available within a decade.
If successful, the trials will eliminate the need for open brain surgery, the biggest danger to implanting BMI chips.
Australian researchers were able to establish proof-of-concept results after implanting the device into the superficial cortical vein of sheep. The team captured 190 days of high-fidelity recordings of neural activity in the motor cortex (the area of the brain that controls voluntary movement) from the subject sheep, said a study published by Nature Biotechnology.
Last January, DARPA announced a program called the Neural Engineering System Design that will develop its own BMI to connect humans to machines. Current implants connect 100 to 1,000 neurons at once, but result in a "web of noise" that impedes effective coordination.
"Today's best brain-computer interface systems are like two supercomputers trying to talk to each other using an old 300-baud modem," said DARPA project manager Philip Alvelda.
"Imagine what will become possible when we upgrade our tools to really open the channel between the human brain and modern electronics."
DARPA scientists have previously successfully demonstrated that paralyzed patients with electrode array brain implants that intercepted the brain's electrical signals could move prosthetic limbs.