05 November 2009

We Are All Cyborgs Now: NeuralWisp Chip w/ remote RF Power

University of Washington researchers have developed a neural sensing chip that is powered by a remote radio frequency source up to 1 meter away. The NeuralWisp chip is currently being used to "tap into" the neural activity of moths, in order to understand the insect's locomotion. UW researchers are gradually incorporating a number of innovative size-reducing and energy-saving modifications into the NeuralWisp.
The device contains a microprocessor powered by a commercial radio-frequency reader that doubles as a data-collection device. The same equipment is used to power and read information from radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags. In experiments, the researchers used the new device to sense central nervous system activity in a moth in order to study its locomotion.

There have been some advances in reducing the size of neural implants recently, but the majority of implantable devices are still relatively cumbersome. These devices typically require multiple components--such as a clock for timing operations and an antenna for communication and power-harvesting--that are quite large compared to the transistors on the microcontroller, says Brian Otis, professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington and lead researcher on NeuralWISP.

"You can have millions of transistors on a chip less that's less than a cubic millimeter in volume, but the problem is with the extra parts," says Otis. "Our goal is to shrink everything onto a single chip and reduce the power consumption of these components so that the chip can be wirelessly powered."

The NeuralWISP is a collection of smaller, more low-power components, such as a specialized signal amplifier, on a circuit board just over two centimeters long. A future version will integrate all components onto a single chip that's one millimeter by two millimeters in size. The circuitry converts usable power from the reader--roughly 430 microwatts--to a voltage that can turn on the microcontroller. This microcontroller, in turn, controls the sensor and its timer, and runs instructions that allow data to be sent back to the reader. _TechnologyReview
Anyone who has read John Scalzi's SF novel Old Man's War, may be reminded of the powerful brain reading devices that permitted the transplantation of 75 year old minds into the freshly grown super-bodies in which they would go to war. The old 75 year old bodies were discarded, but the memories, experiences, personalities, and seasoned characters lived on.

Clearly the technology requires a lot of development before it will be able to monitor and record the activity of human minds at that level of dynamic precision.

Long before this brain reading technology allows for transplanting minds to new bodies, it will be used to provide seamless functioning of advanced prosthetic devices and remote operation of proxy devices and avatars. They may also provide baseline healthy readings in case of later brain damage from stroke, trauma, toxicity, infection, malignancy, or gradual neurodegeneration.

Information gained from future generations of such devices on the nano-scale, may even pave the way for human level machine intelligences.

More: This approach to biodegradable implantable neurocircuits should soon allow for some very clever experiments in the art of the cyborg.

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