Powering brain implants without wires with thin-film wireless power transmission system

Avoids risk of infections through skull opening and leakage of cerebrospinal fluid, and allows for free-moving subjects and more flexible uses of brain-computer interfaces
February 8, 2016

Schematic of proposed architecture of an implantable wireless-powered neural interface system that can provide power to implanted devices. Adding a transmitter chip could allow for neural signals to be transmitted via the antenna for external processing. (credit: Toyohashi University Of Technology)

A research team at Toyohashi University of Technology in Japan has fabricated an implanted wireless power transmission (WPT) device to deliver power to an implanted neural interface system, such as a brain-computer interface (BCI) device.

Described in an open-access paper in Sensors journal, the system avoids having to connect an implanted device to an external power source via wires through a hole in the skull, which can cause infections through the opening and risk of infection and leakage of the cerebrospinal fluid during long-term measurement. The system also allows for free-moving subjects, allowing for more natural behavior in experiments.

Photographs of fabricated flexible antenna and bonded CMOS rectifier chip with RF transformer (credit: Kenji Okabe et al./Sensors)

The researchers used a wafer-level packaging technique to integrate a silicon large-scale integration (LSI) chip in a thin (5 micrometers), flexible parylene film, using flip-chip (face-down) bonding to the film. The system includes a thin-film antenna and a rectifier to convert a radio-frequency signal to DC voltage (similar to how an RFID chip works). The entire system measures 27 mm × 5 mm, and the flexible film can conform to the surface of the brain.

Coventry University prof. Kevin Warwick turns on a light with a double-click of his finger, which triggers an implant in his arm (wired to a computer connected to the light). Adding an RF transmitter chip (and associated processing) to the Toyohashi system could similarly allow for controlling devices, but without wires. (credit: Kevin Warwick/element14)

The researchers plan to integrate additional functions, including amplifiers, analog-to-digital converters, signal processors, and  a radio frequency circuit for transmitting (and receiving) data.

Tethered Braingate brain-computer interface for paralyzed patients (credit: Brown University)

Such a system could perform some of the functions of the Braingate system, which allows paralyzed patients to communicate (see “People with paralysis control robotic arms using brain-computer interface“).

This work is partially supported by Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research, Young Scientists, and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

element14 | Kevin Warwick’s BrainGate Implant

Abstract of Co-Design Method and Wafer-Level Packaging Technique of Thin-Film Flexible Antenna and Silicon CMOS Rectifier Chips for Wireless-Powered Neural Interface Systems

In this paper, a co-design method and a wafer-level packaging technique of a flexible antenna and a CMOS rectifier chip for use in a small-sized implantable system on the brain surface are proposed. The proposed co-design method optimizes the system architecture, and can help avoid the use of external matching components, resulting in the realization of a small-size system. In addition, the technique employed to assemble a silicon large-scale integration (LSI) chip on the very thin parylene film (5 μm) enables the integration of the rectifier circuits and the flexible antenna (rectenna). In the demonstration of wireless power transmission (WPT), the fabricated flexible rectenna achieved a maximum efficiency of 0.497% with a distance of 3 cm between antennas. In addition, WPT with radio waves allows a misalignment of 185% against antenna size, implying that the misalignment has a less effect on the WPT characteristics compared with electromagnetic induction.