Health and fitness monitors may have occurred in leaps and bounds, however there’s still a lot they don’t know about us. Positioning miniaturized sensors deep inside our bodies would be one way to change that, and now it appears such a technology mightn’t be so far away. Scientists have established tiny cordless sensors they call “neural dust”, which track nerve signals and muscles in actual time, opening up a large variety of potential applications that range from examining internal organs to wirelessly managing prosthetics with your mind.
Neural dust is more than just an appealing name. The scientists, from the University of California, Berkeley, have actually handled to crush the sensors into 1 mm cubes around the size of a large grain of sand, and implanted them into the muscles and peripheral nerves of rats. These cubes house piezoelectric crystals that turn ultrasound vibrations (applied from outside the body) into electricity. This offers a source of power for a mini on-board transistor that rests in contact with the nerve to measure electrical activity.
When there is a voltage spike in the surrounding nerve, it customizes the circuit and in turn the vibrations of the piezoelectric crystals. When the vibrations are gotten better to an ultrasound device on the outside of the skin, the modification in echo can be examined to reveal the voltage of the nerve.
In their existing kind, the researchers say the sensing units could be used outside the brain not just for tracking, but also promoting nerves and muscles to deal with things like epilepsy, swelling or fire up the body immune system. Eventually, they intend to establish tinier variations that can be packed into the brain, an advance that could mean huge, huge things.
A 50-micron sensing unit would measure about half the width of a human hair, and planted in the brain it might represent a game-changing development in the method our minds communicate with machines.
There’s still a great deal of work to do before this happens. Not just are the scientists working to make the device smaller, but the sensing units are presently covered in surgical grade epoxy. They are planning to improve on this using biocompatible thin movies rather, which they say could last for decades. They are also working to enhancing the ultrasound transmitter and even broadening the sensors’ capacity to detect non-electrical signals, like oxygen and hormone levels.
The research study was published in the journal Neuron, and the video listed below offers an introduction of how the sensing unit works.
Source: University of California