Researchers expand clinical study of brain implant


braingateneuralinterface.jpgWe are excited to see that the BrainGate Neural Interface System is moving to phase-II clinical testing.
BrainGate is:
A baby aspirin-size brain sensor containing 100 electrodes, each thinner than a human hair, that connects to the surface of the motor cortex (the part of the brain that enables voluntary movement), registers electrical signals from nearby neurons, and transmits them through gold wires to a set of computers, processors and monitors. The goal is for patients with brain stem stroke, ALS, and spinal cord injuries to eventually be able to control prosthetic limbs directly form their brains.An earlier version of the BrainGate system helped a young tetraplegic named Matt Nagle control a mouse cursor and operate a very basic prosthetic hand. A 25-year-old locked-in patient named Erik Ramsey, who is participating in the only other FDA-approved clinical trial of a brain-computer interface. Ever since a car accident nine years ago, the only part of Erik's body that has been under his control has been his eyeballs, and even those he can only move up and down. The hope is that he might someday use his neural implant to control a digital voice:
When Erik thinks about puckering his mouth into an o or stretching his lips into an e, a unique pattern of neurons fires--even though his body doesn't respond. It's like flicking switches that connect to a burned-out bulb. The electrode implant picks up the noisy firing signals of about fifty different neurons, amplifies them, and transmits them across Erik's skull to two small receivers glued to shaved spots on the crown of his head. Those receivers then feed the signal into a computer, which uses a sophisticated algorithm to compare the pattern of neural firings to a library of patterns Kennedy recorded earlier. It takes about fifty milliseconds for the computer to figure out what Erik is trying to say and translate those thoughts into sound.
Like the BrainGate sensor, Erik's neural implant was inserted into the motor cortex (in his case, the specific region that controls the mouth, lips, and jaw). But Erik's implant only has a single electrode, whereas the BrainGate has 100, which means it should, theoretically, be able to differentiate signals from a far greater number of neurons.

Hot papers at 2009 VLSI Technology Symposium


Hot papers from this year's VLSI Technology Symposium include three nonvolatile memory advancements: Toshiba' BiCS Flash, Samsung's vertical-stacked transistor structures and Hitachi's PCRAM. Two papers on advanced logic processes include: Intel's" High-k/Metal Gate Stacks" and IBM's "32nm SOI CMOS with Highk/ Metal Gate."

Low-cost phones, emerging markets to drive handsets sector


With developed markets saturated and shifting mostly high-end handsets, and mid tier phone providers continuing to struggle, market tracker Juniper Research suggests low-cost devices sold to the emerging markets will be the only ray of hope in the short term.

Intel Eyes Smartphone Chip Market


Intel has been rather successful at carving out a larger percentage of the netbook market with their low power Atom processor. Moving forward, Intel's executives believe there's a good potential to increase Atom's traction in adjacent markets by targeting its low-cost, energy-efficient chips at various multifunctional consumer gadgets including smartphones and other portable devices that access the Internet. Code-named Moorestown, a new version of the chip will offer a 50x power reduction at idle and reportedly will deliver enough horsepower to handle 720p video recording and 1080p quality playback. It is with this upcoming chip, that Intel will begin targeting the smartphone market In 2011. Intel also plans to introduce an even smaller, less power hungry version of the chip known as Medfield, which will be built on a 32nm process with a full solution comprising a PCB area of about half the size of a credit card.[Via Slashdot]

Nokia Developing Wireless, Accessory-Free Ambient Charging


Engineers at Nokia have hatched a plan to for a system that'll charge phones using nothing more than ambient electromagnetic radiation, or, as you and I might put it, electricity sucked from thin air.

It sounds a little sci-fi at first, but it's not: RFID tags are powered by electrical signals converted from electromagnetic waves emitted by a nearby sensor machine, which is exactly how this system is said to work. The thing is, the amount of electricity involved here is tiny, and Nokia's system won't even have a base station—it'll draw from ambient electromagnetic waves, meaning Wi-Fi, cell towers and TV antennae. Nokia hopes to harvest about 50 milliwatts—not quite enough to sustain a phone, but enough to mitigate drain, and slowly charge a handset that's been switched off.
Current prototypes only gather about 5 milliwatts, which is essentially useless, and scientists and industry experts just don't see the technology maturing to the point that Nokia wants it to, at least in the near future. But the company's researchers are standing strong:
I would say it is possible to put this into a product within three to four years.
If you believe them, this is pretty exciting: maybe not as a primary charging mechanism, but as a battery extender. [Technology Review—Image from Technology Review]