DOD wants to use implantable chip to turn soldiers into Cyborgs

The "Army's Future Force Warrior system" in 2006. Photo Credit: US Army

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) — the agency credited for pioneering civilian technology like GPS — is now working on a project that could mean “faster information acquisition on enemy positions and swifter relay of instructions on the field.”

DARPA has announced its plans to build an implantable chip no larger than one cubic cm, the volume of two nickels stacked back to back. Possible applications include improving a user’s hearing or vision by “feeding external digital auditory or visual information into the brain.”

The agency’s new program, NESD, or Neural Engineering System Design, aims to develop systems that connect biological nervous systems with digital devices. A neural interface would serve as a translator, “converting between the electrochemical language used by neurons in the brain and the ones and zeros that constitute the language of information technology,” according to DARPA.

NESD program manager Phillip Alvelda told Tech Times that the best of today’s brain-computer interface systems are similar to “two supercomputers trying to communicate with each other through an old 300-baud modem.”

“Imagine what will become possible when we upgrade our tools to really open the channel between the human brain and modern electronics,” he said.

Neural interfaces that are currently approved for human use “squeeze a tremendous amount of information through just 100 channels.” Each of those channels collects signals from “tens of thousands of neurons at a time” and the  result is “noisy and imprecise”  The NESD program, in contrast, aims to develop systems that can communicate “clearly and individually” with any of “up to one million neurons in a given region of the brain.”

To ensure that the envisioned devices will have the potential to be practical outside of a research setting, DARPA says advances need to be made in neuroscience, synthetic biology, low-power electronics and medical device manufacturing. The NESD program aims to recruit a “diverse roster of leading industry stakeholders” willing to offer state-of-the-art prototyping and manufacturing services and intellectual property on a pre-competitive basis– to accelerate the integrative process.

DARPA will host a Proposers Day meeting February 2-3, in Arlington, Virginia, to familiarize potential participants with the technical objectives of NESD. The agency anticipates investing up to $60 million in the NESD program over four years.

The NESD project forms part of President Obama’s BRAIN initiative – which aims to cure and treat brain disorders.

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  • Michele graduated with a B.S. in Telecommunication from the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. She has spent numerous years working in the news industry in south Florida, including many positions ranging from being a news writer at WSVN, the Fox affiliate in Miami to being an associate news producer at WPLG-TV, the ABC affiliate in Miami. Michele has also worked in Public Relations and Marketing.

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