Brain Computer Interfaces Developed by DARPA, US Department of Defense

Ira Pastor, ideaXme life sciences ambassador, interviews Dr. Al Emondi, Program Manager in the Biological Technologies Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), US Department of Defense.

Ira Pastor Comments:

Today, we are going to go down the fascinating pathway of advanced neuro-technologies and in doing so, are going to be joined again by our friends from theDefense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is an agency of the United States Department of Defense (DoD) which is responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military with a mission to make pivotal investments in breakthrough technologies for national security, as well as a tangential mission to formulate and execute research and development projects to expand the frontiers of technology and science, often beyond immediate U.S. military requirements.

Brain-Computer Interface:

As some background to our discussion, a brain-computer interface (BCI) broadly refers to a neuro-technology that allows for a direct communication pathway between ones brain and an external device. BCIs differ from neuromodulation in that they allow for bidirectional information flow and are often directed at researching, mapping, assisting, augmenting, or repairing human cognitive or sensory-motor functions.


Over the past couple of decades, DARPA has been working on very sophisticated neuro-technologies that rely on surgically implanted electrodes to interface with the central or peripheral nervous systems, demonstrating achievements such as neural control of prosthetic limbs, restoration of the sense of touch to the users of those limbs, relief of otherwise intractable neuropsychiatric illnesses such as depression, and improvement of memory formation and recall.

However, due to the inherent risks of surgery, these invasive technologies have so far been limited to use by volunteers with significant clinical need. For the military’s population (as well as the eventual civilian population) to benefit from such advanced neuro-technology, novel non-surgical interfaces are going to be required.

Dr. Al Emondi:

Joining us for this fascinating show today is Dr. Al Emondi, Program Manager in the Biological Technologies Office (BTO) at DARPA who is a thought leader in the space and is working at the “bleeding edge” of such possibilities.

Dr. Emondi joined DARPA in June 2017 and his focus is on neuro-technology and human-machine interaction. His current work explores novel neural interface system architectures applicable to broad user populations and improving the performance of neural interfaces and their application potential through the use of third-wave artificial intelligence.

Dr. Emondi came to DARPA from the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SPA-WAR) Atlantic, located in Charleston, South Carolina, where he was the Chief Technology Officer for, and served as deputy CTO to the SPA-WAR HQ CTO for the Atlantic region. He also led the science and technology competency, which included personnel focused on basic and applied sciences, technology transition, and technology transfer.

Before his tour at SSC Atlantic, he was an early pioneer for software-defined radio research initiatives at the Air Force Research Lab in Rome, New York.

Dr Emondi holds a PhD degree in neuroscience and a Master of Science in electrical engineering from Syracuse University, and a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Wilkes University.

On this episode we will hear from Dr. Emondi about:

His background; how he developed an interest in science, in electrical engineering and neuroscience, and in exploring the frontiers of such a scientific intersection. The goals of DARPA’s Next-Generation Non-Surgical Neuro-technology program. The goals of DARPA’s Intelligent Neural Interfaces (INI) program and related applications of DARPA’s Third-Wave artificial intelligence platform.

The goals of the DARPA Neural Engineering System Design (NESD) program seeking to develop high-resolution neuro-technology capable of mitigating the effects of injury and disease on the visual and auditory systems of military personnel.

His work in developing Haptic technologies (referring to any technology that can create an experience of touch by applying forces, vibrations, or motions to the user), and the Hand Proprioception & Touch Interfaces for Prosthetic Limbs (HAPTIX) program.

Credits: Ira Pastor interview video, text, and audio.

If you liked this interview, be sure to check out our interview with Dr. Eric Van Gieson from the Biological Technologies Office (BTO) at DARPA.

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