Tiny ‘neural dust’ sensors may help scientists monitor your nerves in real time

The burgeoning field of bioelectronic medicine has been buzzing recently with Google affiliate Verily (previously Google Life Sciences) and medical company GlaxoSmithKline joining forces in a $715 million deal to launch Galvani Bioelectronics. By tapping into our bodies’ natural electrical signals, these tiny, implantable devices have the potential to support a new class of therapies known as “electroceuticals.”

A team of engineers from UC Berkeley have made a breakthrough in the emerging field by creating tiny, wireless sensors they’ve called “ultrasonic neural dust,” which provide biometric information in real time. They say this is the first device of its kind to monitor neural activity in living animals. The minimally invasive devices may help treat disorders ranging from inflammation to epilepsy. A report detailing their study was published last week in the journal Neuron.

“This is the first time someone has used ultrasound as a method of powering and communicating with extremely small implantable systems,” one of the paper’s authors, Donjon Seo, told Scientific American. “This opens up a host of applications in terms of embodied telemetry: being able to put something super-tiny, super-deep in the body, which you can park next to a nerve, organ, muscle or gastrointestinal tract, and read data out wirelessly.”

NeuralDust
Ryan Neely
Ryan Neely

To test the “neural dust,” the researchers implanted them into the muscles and surrounding nerves of rats, and transmitted ultrasound to the implanted devices, which returned information about the nerves’ electrical signals. Ultrasound also provides a power source, enabling the researchers to get rid of batteries and wires. And, although not unnoticeable in rats, the sand-grain-sized devices would be exceptionally small in humans.

“The original goal of the neural dust project was to imagine the next generation of brain-machine interfaces, and to make it a viable clinical technology,” neuroscience graduate student Ryan Neely said in a press release. “If a paraplegic wants to control a computer or a robotic arm, you would just implant this electrode in the brain and it would last essentially a lifetime.”

In the future, the engineers hope to design the device so that it can be implanted in the brain and detect non-electrical signals, including data on oxygen and hormone levels.

Mobile

Rekindled yet again, Nokia’s next-gen phones offer more than just nostalgia

HMD Global, a startup that designs and builds Nokia Android smartphones, wants to put the Nokia brand name back “where it belongs.” It helps that it’s made up of ex-Nokia employees. We go behind the scenes to see how HMD formed.
Mobile

Is this the first image of a Galaxy S10 being used in real life?

It won't be long now; With 2019 underway, the Samsung Galaxy S10 is almost here. Before it arrives, here's absolutely everything you need to know about all three of Samsung's next flagships.
Mobile

Benchmark results show Snapdragon 855 destroys previous-generation chip

Almost exactly a year after the launch of the Snapdragon 845, Qualcomm took the wraps off of its next-generation mobile platform, the new Snapdragon 855. The new chip puts an emphasis on A.I. performance.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: heat-powered watches, phone cases with reflexes

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Drones: New rules could soon allow flights over people and at night

With commercial operators in mind, the U.S. government is looking to loosen restrictions on drone flights with a set of proposals that would allow the machines greater freedom to fly over populated areas and also at night.
Emerging Tech

Short film celebrates New Yorker’s amazing robot costumes

New York City resident Peter Kokis creates stunning robot costumes out of household trash. His designs are huge, heavy, and extremely intricate, and never fail to turn heads when he's out and about.
Emerging Tech

Yamaha’s new app lets you tune your motorcycle with a smartphone

It used to be that if you wanted to tune your motorcycle’s engine and tweak its performance, you needed specialized tools and even more specialized knowledge. Yamaha’s new Power Tuner app changes that.
Emerging Tech

In a first for humankind, China is growing plants on the moon

Having recently landed a probe on the far side of the moon, China announced that it managed to grow the first plant on the moon, too. Here's why that matters for deep space travel.
Emerging Tech

Ford’s sweaty robot bottom can simulate 10 years of seat use in mere days

Ford has developed 'Robutt,' a sweaty robot bottom that's designed to simulate the effects of having a pair of human buttocks sitting on its car seats for thousands of hours. Check it out.
Emerging Tech

CES 2019 recap: All the trends, products, and gadgets you missed

CES 2019 didn’t just give us a taste of the future, it offered a five-course meal. From 8K and Micro LED televisions to smart toilets, the show delivered with all the amazing gadgetry you could ask for. Here’s a look at all the big…
Emerging Tech

Want to know which drones are flying near you? There’s an app for that

Want to know what that mysterious drone buzzing over your head is up to? A new system developed by AirMap, Google Wing, and Kittyhawk.io could soon tell you -- via a map on your phone.
Emerging Tech

A Japanese hotel fires half its robot staff for being bad at their jobs

Japan’s oddball Henn na Hotel has fired half of its 243 robot staff. The reason? Because these labor-saving machines turned out to be causing way more problems than they were solving.
Emerging Tech

CERN plans to build a massive particle collider that dwarfs the LHC

CERN already has the world's biggest particle accelerator. Now it wants a bigger one. Meet the 9 billion euro Future Circular Collider that will allow physicists to extend their study of the universe and matter at the smallest level.
Emerging Tech

Forget fireworks. Japan will soon have artificial meteor showers on tap

Tokyo-based startup Astro Live Experiences is preparing to launch its first artificial meteor shower over Japan, serving as a showcase of its prowess in the space entertainment sector.