A Headset Which Non-Surgically Links Human Brains
Dr Farzaneh Hafezi
16 January 2020
Dr Jacob Robinson of Rice University in Texas, is the lead investigator on an 18 million dollar, four-year project which plans to develop a headset that can link human brains with one another.
The project aims to transmit visual images from brain to brain at the speed of thought, without the need for surgery. Neuro-engineers (N3) from the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Next-Generation Nonsurgical Neurotechnology program plan to use a combination of light, ultrasound or electromagnetism to read and write brain activity. DARPA hopes to make this futuristic concept into reality.
Rice University’s new headset is called MOANA (magnetic, optical and acoustic neural access device). MOANA is able to share visual images between two brains in less than one-twentieth of a second by decoding neural activity and recreating it between two person’s brains. According to Rice University co-investigator Ashok Veeraraghavan “red and infrared wavelengths of light can penetrate the skull, and MOANA's device will utilize this”.
The MOANA team plan to read neural activities by reprograming neurons to make specific proteins called "calcium-dependent indicators" which are designed to absorb the light. These neural activities will be written to a minimum of 16 target area of a blind patient brain with the help of machine.
Veeraraghavan, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, said “most of this light scatters off the scalp and skull, but a small fraction can make it into the brain, and this tiny fraction of photons contain information that is critical to decoding a visual perception”. The project aims to capture and decode this information when it’s on its journey to the visual cortex and back to the detector.
Dr Robinson and his team believe, after three years of work, that they are ready to test MOANA, “if our work in cells and animal models goes well, MOANA could be approved for clinical tests as a nonsurgical alternative. It would require gene therapy, but not brain surgery.”
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