Neural Dust – “Smart Dust” – previously entered mainstream discussion via the 2016 Independentarticle: “Tiny implant could connect humans and machines like never before.” It was implied to be a new technology that can wirelessly link a human brain to a computer via the implantation of a device the size of a grain of sand. This invention, however, is much older and was officially supported by the National Nanotechnology Initiative 2011 Strategic Plan.
In 2013, I covered how researchers at Berkeley Engineering discussed moving nanotechnology from environmental sensor applications toward human applications such as brain-computer interfaces. Their paper stated:
A network of tiny implantable sensors could function like an MRI inside the brain, recording data on nearby neurons and transmitting it back out. The smart dust particles would all contain an extremely small CMOS sensor capable of measuring electrical activity in nearby neurons. The researchers envision a piezoelectric material backing the CMOS capable of generating electrical signals from ultrasound waves. The process would also work in reverse, allowing the dust to beam data back via high-frequency sound waves. The neural dust would also be coated with polymer. (Source)
Now scientists believe that they have crossed a new threshold toward making the concept of smart dust a reality that would offer a far wider scope than originally envisioned. At the recent IEEE Conference, researchers from Brown University, Qualcomm and the University of California San Diego announced that they are the first to have achieved a wireless transfer of information from an implanted neural device to an external computer that interpreted the data received.
It allows bidirectional communication between the implants and an external device with an uplink rate of 10 megabits per second and a downlink rate of 1 Mb/s.
“We believe that we are the first group to realize wireless power transfer and megabits per second communications” in a neural implant, says Wing Ching (Vincent) Leung, technical director at the Qualcomm Institute Circuits Lab at UC San Diego.
Nurmikko calls the 0.25-square-millimeter implants “neurograins.” They each consist of a chip capable of harvesting RF energy; that chip powers an electrode that senses spikes of voltage from individual neurons, as well as the wireless communications. An antenna set outside of the skull provides the RF power, transmits to the implants, and receives data from them.
Source: IEEE Spectrum
Researchers believe that the introduction of thousands of “neurograins” will enable far more complex data collection and transference than a single implant.
As I’ve highlighted in previous articles on the topic, this type of communication is a two-way street — some people might feel content, for example, with sending their brain’s information out to a doctor for evaluation, but this sensor network could also transmit data back, as was admitted by MIT in their 2013 article “How Smart Dust Could Spy on Your Brain.”