ARM has announced that it is working on processors small enough to be embedded into the human brain, to help people overcome paralysis, counteract the effects of strokes, and control prosthetic limbs with their thoughts. The UK-based technology firm will be partnering with the University of Washington's Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering to develop ways to integrate its technology into the human brain, which it describes as is one of the final frontiers of technological innovation.
The agreement between ARM and the university is meant to advance the study of of bi-directional brain-computer interfaces. Research will involve understanding how the brain processes impulses and turns them into commands to control muscles. Neural signals have to be decoded, digitised and processed, before the output is fed into electronic stimulators embedded into a patient's spinal cord. Information then has to be sent the other way, to allow the brain to receive the feeling of what their hands are touching, for example. Scientists hope that they can eventually learn to "reprogram" brains to heal themselves and restore functions to a greater extent than they can on their own.
An SoC designed for such purposes would have to be extremely tiny and power efficient, generating very little heat. ARM will be basing its efforts on the Cortex-M0, its smallest current processor. There is no timeline for the project and no projection of when any such product might be developed, much less when it might pass clinical trials and become ready for widespread use.
Scientists hope to develop technology that can help people feel and move again after suffering from paralysis, spinal injuries, or neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.