The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded $9.8 million US to researchers at Rice University for the Next-Generation Nonsurgical Neurotechnology (N3) program. The program seeks to develop non-invasive or minimally invasive neural interfaces that will connect the brains of warfighters to computers to enable fast, effective, and intuitive hands-free interaction with military systems.
The high resolution, nonsurgical neural interface will use diffuse optical tomography to infer neural activity by measuring light scattering in neural tissue. It writes with a magneto-genetic approach to make neurons sensitive to magnetic fields. It is expected that such neural interfaces could enable warfighters to multitask more efficiently, and interact with autonomous and semi-autonomous systems.
Up until now, neural interfaces have been surgically invasive and used primarily to help restore functions and skills to injured warfighters. They require surgical implantation of metal or silicon-based electrodes into brain tissue or on the surface of the brain, and the associated risks are considered to be too high. The N3 project seeks to develop a neural interface that will be completely external to the body or will include a non surgically delivered nano transducer to serve as a signal transducing intermediary between neurons and the external recording and stimulating device.
The project includes a computational and processing unit that will provide decoded neural signals for control in a military application. It must also provide the capability to encode signals from a military application and deliver sensory feedback to the brain, thus creating a bi-directional system.
The N3 program will provide funding at least through 2023 to deliver the nonsurgical neural interface system and is divided into three sequential phases: a one-year base effort, and two 18-month option periods, and should be completed by May of 2022.