January 15, 2014

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Mind Reader

Blackrock Microsystems Reads the Brain’s Signals to Improve Lives

By Devin Felix

January 15, 2014

Neuroscientists and engineers at institutions around the world are hard at work researching ways to use technology to interface with the brain in order improve the lives of people with debilitating disabilities. Blackrock Microsystems, a privately held Salt Lake City company, is providing them the instruments to do so.

“What Blackrock Microsystems is doing as a company is providing the tools for neuroscience research and clinical research markets,” says Florian Solzbacher, president and executive chairman. “This includes electrodes, surgical tools, electronics, data systems, software and a whole host of additional tools.”

Blackrock’s neural interface systems sense, interpret and digitize signals in the brain, allowing researchers to use those signals in devices. Blackrock’s products are being used in research to help paralyzed patients control prosthetic limbs with their thoughts, to improve cardiac function, to diagnose disorders and many other applications. 

Below is one of the company’s products, the Cereplex I system, which is implanted in the body to read and interpret the brain’s signals.

For more information visit www.blackrockmicro.com.

The Utah electrode array was developed by University of Utah’s Richard Normann in the 1990s. It’s about a sixth of an inch wide and is made up of 100 tiny needles on a silicone substrate. When the array is implanted on the cortex of the brain, each of the needles acts as an electrode and “listens to” the signals sent by the neurons around it. This means it can pick up on impulses in the brain that direct motion, heart function, bladder control and other bodily functions.

The neural signal processor receives signals from the electrode array and processes and digitizes them. Signals from the brain are very weak, so the processor also amplifies them so they can be used by electronics outside the body.

Blackrock’s Cereplex systems use several different methods to interface between the signal processor and electronics outside the body (such as robotic prosthetic limbs, processing computers, etc.). Pictured is a system that uses a wire that can connect to exterior systems. Also available are ports that protrude from the skin. Blackrock is also developing a system that will allow for a wireless connection. 

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