Here come the rice-grain-sized brain implants: Stanford discovers way of beaming power to microimplants deep inside your body

Are you getting this Transhumanists?

The good, the bad and the ugly of where this can go.




Extreme Tech
By Sebastian Anthony
20 May 2014

Stanford electrical engineer and biological implant mastermind, Ada Poon, has discovered a way of wirelessly transmitting power to tiny, rice-grain-sized implants that are deep within the human body. This could well be the breakthrough that finally allows for the creation of smaller pacemakers, body-wide sensor networks, and a new class of “electroceutical” devices that sit deep in the human brain and stimulate neurons directly, providing an alternative for drug-based therapies for depression, Alzheimer’s, and other neurological ailments. There will of course be the potential for elective, transhumanist applications as well.

The key to this discovery is a new method of wirelessly transmitting power, dubbed “mid-field powering.” As the name implies, mid-field power transfer uses radio waves that sit between near-field (tens of gigahertz) and far-field (tens of megahertz). Near-field radiation can penetrate human flesh, but can only effectively transfer power over a short distance (millimeters). Far-field waves can transfer power over longer distances, but are unfortunately scattered or absorbed by human skin. To create mid-field waves, Poon created a patterned antenna (pictured below) that generates special near-field waves. When these special waves hit the skin, they turn into mid-field waves that can then penetrate a few more centimeters of flesh. (For more on how wireless power transfer actually works, read our explainer.)



Currently, as there’s no good way of (safely) wirelessly transmitting power through human flesh, implants generally need to contain a large battery, which in turn makes the implant way too large to embed deep within the body. As a result, most implants so far have been either large-battery pacemakers that sit just under the skin (with long electrodes that reach into the heart), or cochlear (ear) implants that are near enough to the skin that near-field power transfer is feasible. With the advent of mid-field power transfer, Poon and her friends at Stanford have created rice-grain size implants that can be embedded directly into the heart to function as a pacemaker, or attached to a nerve bundle.

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