ARM partners drive for brain-implantable chips

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Cambridge technology pathfinder ARM is partnering scientists from a US university in an initiative to develop brain-implantable chips that could solve a host of chronic health issues through brain-computer interfaces.

ARM’s alliance is with the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE) from the University of Washington.

The research project will enable medical professionals to start solving real-world health problems with the brain-implantable chips – tackling a raft of debilitating neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and even paralysis.

The long-term goal is to assist people affected by neurological conditions, by engineering neurotechnology that will help the body heal, feel and move again.

Karthik Ranjan, director of healthcare technology at ARM says: “The human brain is one of the final frontiers for technological innovation. Imagine a future where paralysis resulting from spinal cord injuries is only a temporary obstacle rather than a permanent state.

“Imagine artificial limbs that can send the user feedback about how hot or cold their cup of coffee is or just how tightly they are holding their loved one’s hand.

“Imagine a future where temporary implants can help an individual recover from a stroke or manage other debilitating neurological conditions. Now, all of these seemingly impossible medical applications of new technology stand to be within reach for bi-directional brain-computer interfaces.”

ARM and the CSNE will develop a unique brain-implantable system-on-a-chip (SoC) for bi-directional brain-computer interfaces (BBCI) aimed at solving neurodegenerative disorders.

The CSNE is a National Science Foundation engineering research centre working to develop innovative ways to connect a deep computational understanding of how the brain adapts and processes information with the design of implantable devices.

The new SoC will play a vital role in decoding the complex signals formed within the brain, digitising them so they can be processed and acted upon, with the end result of controlling the body’s muscle functions – which is the key to tackling neurodegenerative disease.

Brain-implantable chips need to be very small, highly power-efficient and capable. ARM’s industry-proven Cortex-M0 processor, the smallest ARM processor available, will contribute to this very important area of research by being an integral part of the CSNE’s brain-implantable SoC.

Ranjan said: “The project is a natural fit for ARM and our vision of improving lives around the globe by shaping a smarter, happier and healthier world with technology.

“Our ongoing goal of increasing the power-efficiency of ARM products aligns with CSNE’s advanced research work in developing low-power, efficient and implantable neural devices for medical applications.”

Dr Scott Ransom, the CSNE’s director of industry relations and innovation, said: “We are very excited to be collaborating with a company like ARM. ARM’s strong expertise in power-efficient microprocessors compliments the CSNE’s work in computational neuroscience and brain-computer interfacing, and we expect the partnership to lead to advances in not only medical technology but other applications as well, such as consumer electronics.

“As it matures, this technology, when combined with the human brain – one of the most critical centres of the human body – could be used to solve myriad challenges in health care and beyond.”

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