BMI research by UCB faculty/TerraSwarm PI's Carmena and Maharbiz

In the Fall 2017 issue of California Magazine, Professors Jose Carmena and Michel Maharbiz were interviewed about their work with brain-machine interfaces (BMI). a system that connects the brain to a machine. The first component of a BMI is the neural interface, sensors that read the firing of neurons in the brain. Secondly, the information from the sensors is sent to an external decoder that translates brain activity to output signals. The signals are then used used to control the third component of a BMI, the "machine," e.g., a prosthetic arm or leg.

The first component had been a bottleneck in the system, which was eventually resolved by using ultrasound instead of wired connections or radio frequencies for power and for getting the data in and out of the body.

"The physics of ultrasound are perfect," says Maharbiz, "because our body will let pressure waves travel through it fairly well" and with much less energy than radio frequencies need. At its current size, neural dust already has potential for a variety of clinical applications, such as providing real-time monitoring of areas of the body like the peripheral nervous system and organs.

Carmena says that neural dust will eventually replace wire electrodes we use today. Progress on BMI and neural dust technologies has advanced at an astounding pace.

"When I came [to Berkeley] in 2005 there was no one here working on neuroengineering, neurotechnology, or BMI," remembers Carmena. Now, with an expanded team, "We do lots of wacky stuff," says Maharbiz. "We have a project where we are looking at how you could take microbes with flagella and marry them to chips to build 1mm swimming robots. ... You sort of create your own reality, that's one of the beauties of working at Berkeley."

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