Salt-sized sensors mimic the brain

Salt-sized sensors mimic the brain

Technology News |
By Wisse Hettinga

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An array of tiny wireless nodes could someday find their way into brain-machine interfaces


To gain a better understanding of the brain, why not draw inspiration from it? At least, that’s what researchers at Brown University did, by building a wireless communications system that mimics the brain using an array of tiny silicon sensors, each the size of a grain of sand. The researchers hope that the technology could one day be used in implantable brain-machine interfaces to read brain activity.

Each sensor, measuring 300 by 300 micrometers, acts as a wireless node in a large array, analogous to neurons in the brain. When a node senses an event, such as a change in temperature or neural activity, the device sends the data as a “spike” signal, consisting of a series of short radio-frequency pulses, to a central receiver. That receiver then decodes the information.

“The brain is exquisitely efficient in handling large amounts of data,” says Arto Nurmikko, a professor of engineering and physics at Brown University. That’s why his lab chose to develop a network of unobtrusive microsensors that are “neuromorphic,” meaning they are inspired by how the brain works. And the similarities don’t end there—Nurmikko says that the wireless signals and computing methods are also inspired by the brain. The team published their results on 19 March in Nature Electronics.

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