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Introduction

TIMOTHY DENISON
Medtronic

JUSTIN WILLIAMS
University of Wisconsin

The brain has always been attractive to engineers. Neurons and their connections, like tiny circuit elements, process and transmit information in a dramatic way that is intimately curious to researchers in the computer science and engineering fields. Neurons are amazing computational devices capable of both robust response to widely varied inputs and adaptability to changing conditions. Our most advanced computing systems are still dwarfed by the computational power of the human brain. Even small groups of neurons are capable of intricate interactions that produce basic mechanisms of learning and memory, highly parallel processing, and exquisite sensing capabilities.

Science has made great strides in the past few decades toward uncovering the basic principles underlying the brain’s ability to receive sensation and control movement. These discoveries, along with revolutionary advances in computing power and microelectronics technology, have led to an emerging view that neural prosthetics, or electronic interfaces with the brain for restoration or augmentation of physiological function, may one day be possible. While the creation of a “six million dollar man” may still be far into the future, neural prostheses are rapidly becoming real potential treatments for a broad range of patients with injury or disease of the nervous system.

This session focuses on the types of engineering technology used to interface with the nervous system. This includes technology for stimulating the nervous system for restoration of sensory function as well as methods for extracting motor intention from the brain for use in artificial prostheses. In addition, we consider how lessons learned about the way the nervous system processes information can also be applied to circuit design—both for prosthetics and consumer circuits in general.



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OCR for page 113
Introduction tiMothy deniSon Medtronic JuStin williAMS University of Wisconsin The brain has always been attractive to engineers. Neurons and their connec - tions, like tiny circuit elements, process and transmit information in a dramatic way that is intimately curious to researchers in the computer science and engi - neering fields. Neurons are amazing computational devices capable of both robust response to widely varied inputs and adaptability to changing conditions. Our most advanced computing systems are still dwarfed by the computational power of the human brain. Even small groups of neurons are capable of intricate inter- actions that produce basic mechanisms of learning and memory, highly parallel processing, and exquisite sensing capabilities. Science has made great strides in the past few decades toward uncovering the basic principles underlying the brain’s ability to receive sensation and control movement. These discoveries, along with revolutionary advances in computing power and microelectronics technology, have led to an emerging view that neural prosthetics, or electronic interfaces with the brain for restoration or augmentation of physiological function, may one day be possible. While the creation of a “six million dollar man” may still be far into the future, neural prostheses are rapidly becoming real potential treatments for a broad range of patients with injury or disease of the nervous system. This session focuses on the types of engineering technology used to interface with the nervous system. This includes technology for stimulating the nervous system for restoration of sensory function as well as methods for extracting motor intention from the brain for use in artificial prostheses. In addition, we consider how lessons learned about the way the nervous system processes information can also be applied to circuit design—both for prosthetics and consumer circuits in general. 113

OCR for page 113
114 FRONTIERS OF ENGINEERING The papers in this session give perspectives from both academia and industry. Clinical studies are presented that span both basic research and commercial appli - cations. Finally, discussion of emerging technologies that combine genetic and optical approaches provide a glimpse into the state of the art in neural interfacing technology. James Weiland (Doheny Eye Institute, University of Southern California) covers the historical use of electrical stimulation of the nervous system and then focuses on recent clinical development of retinal implants to restore sight. He also gives a brief overview on the emerging field of optogenetics. Eric Leuthardt (Washington University) discusses the use of neural recording devices to extract motor command signals for applications as communication aids and brain machine interfaces for disabled populations. Finally, Rahul Sarpeshkar (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) presents new paradigms of “neuromorphic” processing— how we can learn from the brain’s amazing processing properties and apply that knowledge in next-generation applications like cochlear prostheses.