Health and Medicine Neuroscience Technology

Engineers Create The First Dust-Sized Wireless Sensors That Can Be Implanted Into The Human Body

dust-sized wireless sensors

Engineers at the University of California, Berkeley have created the very first dust-sized wireless sensors that may be implanted within the body. This is bringing technology closer to the day that technologies such as the Fitbit will be able to monitor internal nerves, muscles and organs all in real time.

These devices do not require batteries and may also be able to stimulate nerves and muscles opening up doors for electroceuticals to treat disorders including epilepsy and stimulate the immune system or lower inflammation.

The neural dust is implanted in the muscles and peripheral nerves of rats and is unique due to its use of ultrasound. It holds the ability to both power and read measurements. Ultrasound technology is already very thoroughly developed for the care of hospice patients and ultrasound vibrations are able to penetrate just about everywhere within the human body making them much more useful than radio waves.

Michel Maharbiz, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences is one of the main two authors of the study. He says he believes that long term prospects for neural dust are not only within nerves and the brain but much broader. Having access to telemetry within the body has never been possible because there has been no way to put something so tiny so deep. But now he can take a speck of nothing and park it next to a nerve or organ, your GI tract or a muscle, and read out the data.

The complete findings have been published in the upcoming Neuron Journal. Sensors at this time have already been shrunken to a size of 1 millimeter cube, which is about the size of a large grain of sand. These hold a piezoelectric crystal that converts ultrasound vibrations from outside of the body into electricity that powers a tiny, on board transistor that is in direct contact with a nerve or muscle fiber. When there is a spike in voltage within the fiber, this alters the circuit and the vibration of the crystal, which then changes the echo detected by the ultrasound receiver. The same device will typically generate the same vibrations. This slight change is known as the backscatter which allows researchers to determine the exact voltage.

During their experiment, UC Berkeley’s team powered up passive sensors every 100 microseconds with six 540-nanosecond ultrasound pulses that gave off continual and real time readouts. The first generation motes were coated with surgical grade epoxy but they are currently working on building motes from biocompatible thin films that may potentially last inside the body without any signs of degradation for at least a decade.




So far the experiments have involved peripheral nervous system and muscles, but the neural dust motes could work just as well in the central nervous system and brain in order to control prosthetics according to researchers. Implantable electrodes generally degrade within a year or two and are always connected to wires that must go through holes cut directly in the skull. Wireless sensors, as many as a few dozen to a hundred could be sealed within which would limit infection as well as unwanted movement of the electrodes.

Ryan Neely, a neuroscience graduate student says the original goal of the neural dust was to help imagine the next generation of brain-machine interfaces and to make it a viable clinical technology. If a paraplegic wants to control a computer or a robotic arm, you would just implant this electrode in the brain and it would last essentially a lifetime.

In the paper that was originally published on the internet in 2013, it was estimated that researchers would be able to shrink the sensors down to a cube the size of 50 microns on a single side (or about a thousandths of an inch). At this particular size, the motes could nestle up to just a few nerve axons and continually record their electrical activity.

Carmena said the beauty is that as of now, the sensors are small enough to have a good application in the peripheral nervous system, for bladder control or appetite suppression, for example. The technology is not really there yet to get to a 50 micron target size, which we would need for the brain and central nervous system. Once it’s clinically proven, however, neural dust will just replace wire electrodes. This time, once you close up the brain, you are done.

The team is currently working on making the device even smaller, finding more biocompatible materials and improving the surface transceiver that sends and receives the ultrasounds, ideally using beam steering technology in order to focus sound waves on individual motes. They are working on building little backpacks for rats that will hold ultrasound receiver that is going to record data from notes that are implanted. They are also focusing on expanding the ability of said motes to detect non-electrical signals, such as oxygen and hormone levels.

Dongjin Seo, graduate student in electrical engineering and computer sciences says the vision is to implant these neural dust motes anywhere throughout the body and have a patch over the implanted site that sends ultrasonic waves to wake up and receive necessary information from the motes from the desired therapy you want. Eventually you would use multiple implants and one patch that would ping each implant on an individual basis or all at the exact same time.

Maharbiz and Carmena came up with the idea of neural dust five years ago but their attempts to power an implantable device and read out the data with radio waves did not work out as planned. Radio attenuates extremely fast with distance in tissue, so communicating with devices deep in the body is extremely difficult without using potentially damaging amount of radiation.

Marharbiz thought of the use of ultrasound back in 2013 when he published a paper with Carmena, Seo and their colleagues in which they described such a system and how it could potentially work. Maharbiz said their first study demonstrated that the fundamental physics of ultrasound allowed for very small implants that would not be able to record and communicate neural data. The system has now been built by him and his students.

Seo says ultrasound is far more efficient when you are targeting devices that are on the millimeter scale or smaller that are embedded deep inside of the body. You can get a lot of power into it and a lot more efficient transfer of energy and communication when using ultrasound as opposed to electromagnetic waves, which has been the go-to method for wirelessly transmitted power to miniature implants.

Carmena says now that there is a reliable and minimally invasive neural pickup in your body, the technology is able to become the driver for a whole gamut of applications, things that today don’t even exist.

  • Brook Jolley

    What happens when the receiver is hacked and someone fires them randomly? Does it kill the rats or could it by shutting down their central nervous system?

    If they weren’t implanted but breathed, how hard would it be to get them into enough spots to kill the person?

    This is roughly one of the most highly dangerous substances I have ever heard of if there is some way it can get there without being put there specifically on purpose. Know how hackers can slam the brakes on a jeep cherokee off? Want them to turn off your compulsion to drink liquids forever so you die of dehydration on accident, or just stop your heart?

    • Jason Love

      These sensors are more like microphones or the mouse on your computer: in the presence of ultrasound, they “echo” data based on the environment in which they exist. They’re only capable of conveying information; they can’t cause action within the body, and so cannot really be hacked, as such. Now, that data is eventually intended for use within devices like prosthetics, and conceivably THOSE devices could be hacked, but that’s not really impacted by the existence of these sensors.

      • Cheeezburger

        Seems like without authentication there could be privacy breach issues though.

      • Steve Wilkins

        Yeah wonderful. And while were at it – lets use HAARP to interfere with everybody’s bio
        function – in fact we can create aerosol nano-tech that everyone
        breathes in and we can improve everyone’s life…. whoop-see-do! Its all
        for the greater good…………… isn’t it?

      • loubet26

        “only conveying information” but what information exactly could someone be capable of conveying? Could it be harmful information? We don’t know.

    • Flamerate1

      It’s just a really tiny tool basically. It can’t be hacked because what is there to hack? There isn’t a whole computer. Just a tiny circuit that reacts to certain conditions.

    • Mj

      THAT, Lieutenant, is the RIGHT QUESTION.

    • Saturn

      Just a matter of time before they are secretly injected into all babies (and adults) when they go for their inoculations….

      Suicide Squad isn’t just a movie. It’s the future.

      • Steve Wilkins

        Are you sure its the future? Many of us are extremely concerned its the present. A device already exists and is about to be launched that can interfere with bio-neural messaging. Presented as a fantastic method to stop pain and other ’emotional options’. It came from a military research center – Now… I wonder what their original intention was prior to releasing a commercial patent???? Forward thinking writers have been warning for years – Hollywood makes movies of the dangers and the sheeple are still sleep walking – the technology is here – the problem is now. We must help people wake up – even if they don’t like being kicked out of their dream state.

  • Joseph Rivers

    Wow, that’s amazing! Using ultrasound as a power source and controller is brilliant!

    • Steve Wilkins

      Yeah wonderful. And lets use HAARP to interfere with everybody’s bio function – in fact we can create aerosol nano-tech that everyone breathes in and we can improve everyone’s life…. whoop-see-do! Its all for the greater good…………… isn’t it?

      • Joseph Rivers

        Uhh… You don’t really believe all that, do you?

        • Steve Wilkins

          I believe that toxic chemistry is being sprayed into the atmosphere across a great part of the world. I am far from alone in that – You are welcome to take a look at my latest post on FB https://www.facebook.com/steve.wilkins.35380 – in which doctors, pilots and scientists are presenting the toxic evidence – in the soil and water (3,5 hrs of it.) there are other toxic elements nobody fully understands but have suspicions about. No I’m far from alone and I believe that much of science which could be an amazing boon to mankind is being abused. You like so many others think of concerned citizens as conspiracy theorists – and this description is promoted by establishment media – we know you have far too much faith in a system that is clearly failing us. Ask more questions… especially about nano-tech and things like HAARP – follow the money – become your own authority – stop believing all the propaganda fed to you daily. Oversight is badly needed on an urgent basis! We need only get this wrong once… and it will be too late.

          • Joseph Rivers

            I’m sorry, but did you say that oversight is needed??? Okay, let’s give some background to why I asked what i did, first off I’ve been living with Sorbonne you might call a conspiracy theorist for a little over twenty years, I’ve heard a great deal of theories over the years and after getting interested, dug deeper into a lot of them. What I’ve found is that most of them are based off quotes or of context, hearsay, old information, dated technology and outright rumour. Not to say that there isn’t some truth to some of them, but typically the truthful basis is uninteresting and benign. There are some very real and horrific plots thought up and implamented, but nano-tech, nano-bots, weather control, economic manipulation, Mole people, end of the world, illuminati, man-made plagues/other bioweapons, radio waves causing cancer, and hundreds of other ideas are not included in those truly dastardly machinations. If you want to have such theories as a hobby, then fine, but don’t spread misinformation and fear.

          • Steve Wilkins

            Just because some go too far – and yes there some extreme viewpoints out there – positively whacky… I’ll admit! I could go on at length about some of idiot thinking that makes it onto the internet – You can filter with rationality easily.That doesn’t mean many issues should not be questioned. Apportioning them all to ‘conspiracy theories’ is far too easy. Did you bother to check out the link I posted on the subject of chem-trails – I have subsequently found a report which comes from official documentation which i will add to the evidence that Coal fly-ash is being dumped in this manner. The suggestion is that it’s all about the cost of getting rid of this substance by spraying it all over you and me! That may be a factor however, it does not explain all the toxicity found in the areas being flagged by soil scientists and atmospheric specialists. There will be more to come out. And if you visit my page today today you will find a new link to the movie Vaxxed. It offers an excellent example of why and how the ‘establishment’ MUST be questioned thoroughly! If you are not prepared to question what you have been told you are hardly an appropriate candidate for the scientific method. There are many issues relating to medical health that are fully adopted as fact which are being uncovered as illegitimate, untrue, profiteering and in some cases downright criminal. Only when responsible, sane & ethical people question does the truth finally come out. This FACT should make you highly suspicious of much of what you accept as truth. the world is going to hell in a hand basket at a rate of knots. Fear mongering is exactly the name of the game – the ESTABLISHMENT GAME. Wake up and smell the coffee, you are living in dream state. Common sense has become an oxymoron. I am one those trying to instill UNcommon sense. Get with the program for your own sake… its urgent! By the way – I am holding this conversation because up until now you have been polite, stated your objection clearly as have I… I also care about you, your health and your interest (it seems) in science. You can put me down as a tin-foil hat nutter if you wish – my efforts are both genuine and lucid, I apologise if some of comments herein seem offensive – I am frustrated with people in general who simply refuse to review alternative evidence. I too was a follower of the establishment theme until the last couple of years, when finally in sheer frustration with friends attempting to challenge my world view – I decided to debunk their viewpoints. A challenge I am so glad I undertook because much of what they were saying turned out to be true… Chem-trails and vaccinations being a prime example. Do your own research – do it thoroughly – don’t be scared – use your education to good effect. Then ask yourself why is my government complicit in these issues?? Are they?? You will be left with a bewildering array of questions. Up to you whether you have the courage to keep on going… Good luck.

          • Joseph Rivers

            First off, yes, chem-trails are a thing. Are they harmful? Honestly, not all of them have the same purpose, so there very well may be some with damaging effects. If you think the first people to implement fire didn’t get burned, you’re not thinking about it long enough. The root of the mistrust in vaccinations is based on the flawed and outright dangerous ones that were released, what, forty years ago? Frack, I can’t remember, it might have been longer. Anyways, the cause of that idea is based off old news that has since changed. Hell, even the minute amount of mercury based molecules has been removed to stop people from talking about mercury in vaccinations. The only reason I was interested in this article in the first place is that I tried to accomplish something similar, but couldn’t figure out a way to make it non-toxic. Also, when people were developing plastics and waging wars, a lot of random toxic crap got spread around. You want to talk about real conspiracies? The public image of firearms has been steadily forced into negative light, mostly because politicians are seeing the end of the USA as an economic power and are worried about keeping citizens from causing trouble. The Chinese are actively but subtly sending their citizens over to places of political and economic power in order to secure more power. One of my best friends was sent over to Canada for that very purpose. So, yeah, most conspiracy theories are more distractions from the real issues. How’s that for a conspiracy theory?

          • Steve Wilkins

            This will be my last. I doubt that you and I will ever be singing from the same song sheet. I can tell from your response on the vaccine issue you are sadly unaware of the latest issues. Will you watch Vaxxed – the movie – maybe, one day once the issue is blown wide open – maybe… Will you ever open your eyes to the power issues within the US – certainly more of a threat to your own democracy than anything the Chinese will get up to – short of war… and if that happens you might want to start looking at the policies and threats the US makes. Will you ever admit you may need to understand what many of us call OVERSIGHT across a broad range of issues. Doubtful. There are so many great thinkers from our time and before – who have clearly stated the dangers including your own past presidents (usually as they are leaving the position and are able to speak their mind up to a point) As Plato said: “Those who are able to see beyond the shadows and lies of their culture will never be understood, let alone believed by the masses.”

          • Joseph Rivers

            Simple Definition of oversight
            : a mistake made because someone forgets or fails to notice something.
            Not the only usage, but the most common one. A better word would be overview or maybe review, possibly just restated as extensive research.
            I can see you’re not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed from the fact you’ve assumed I live in the USA despite my overt reference to living in Canada. I’m fully aware that the state of the world is: fucked. I’m just not single-minded enough to think that vaccines or chem-trails are terribly serious issues. They’re candles compared to suns and some people can’t stop staring at them instead of doing something. Humans are their own natural predators. It might not affect me in a good way, but for the survival of the human race and the planet? People fucking up is definitely a good thing. Why do people forget that countries, society’s, cultures and humans all have an end? Yeesh, I ended up rambling. Sex trade, human trafficking, war, torture, oppression and overpriced coffee. Realize how lucky you are to be able to think about such theories before treating them seriously.

          • Steve Wilkins

            Sharpest tool he he… sometimes a blunt instrument is exactly what is required. To get through a mindless barrier. As for Canada – for those of us observing from afar Canada looks like like little more than just another state of the USA. You have the same problems due to very similar policies and big money lobbies. Ask your original natives – they’ll tell you clearly. Signing off – this has become pointless. I should know better. Plato.

          • Joseph Rivers

            And that, good Sirs and Ladies, is how one stone walls. Funny how these sorts of discussions end up with the conspiracy theorist doing that. It’s as if they know they don’t have a solid platform to stand on. Eh, whatever.

  • Flamerate1

    My question, though, is where can I buy these? (I know they’re not commercial, but the biohacking community would love this)

  • H+

    Pretty soon we will be the grey aliens trying to come back in time to alter history, let’s just hope the UFO bringing the message of what not to do doesn’t crash.

  • Mike Coppedge

    These devices do not require batteries and may also be able to stimulate nerves and muscles opening up doors for electroceuticals to treat disorders including epilepsy and stimulate the immune system or lower inflammation.

    Right here in the article it explains that they can stimulate nerves and muscles.
    So in the wrong hands this can be used as no touch torture.
    Sending jolts of electricity to the joints and muscles any time.

    Google targeted individuals
    Covert harassment
    Organized stalking

    Jim Guest letter from 2007

    • Mike Coppedge

      You can also Google
      The
      Electronic heart sleeve
      This implant can be used by a cellphone to send jolts of electricity to the heart if the person goes into cardiac arrest.
      Another device that can be manipulated in the wrong hands to murder someone and to make it look like natural causes

  • Steve Wilkins

    This is exactly the kind tech we should all be highly concerned about. This is what ‘they’ tell you about – we all know there are those who WILL use and abuse all manner of nano-tech. And there are unfortunately always those capable of producing this tech who will do it regardless of it’s ultimate use… simply to support egos lacking moral compass. We are living in a very dangerous age – we must stand up and demand a stop – an immediate halt on all human gene research, Artificial intelligence and nano-technology until we can develop some sensible oversight mechanisms that will ensure responsible evaluation for the benefit of mankind overall. I’m all for technology – but have little faith in the idiots that use and abuse it. The evidence of militaristic adaptation of all tech before it becomes public is overwhelming! Stand up people and speak out. Do it now – do it loud. Our protest must be heard – all the way up their Ivory towers.