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What is the Brain-Machine Interface
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Because neural prosthetics as a business venture is a very risky endeavor that does not seem to hold the promise of major returns on investment, the crucial initial development of this technology is very dependant on federal funding. Currently, U.S. government is the single greatest investor this technology.
The Defense Department has taken an active role in funding promising research. The main research funding arm of the Defense Department is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Specifically relevant to neural prosthetics, the DARPA Controlled Biological and Biomimetic Systems Program provides research funding for general neural interfaces. For example this year, DARPA is spending tens of millions of dollars on BMI development with a mandate to have a viable commercial product in four years from now. This is truly the most promising funding source for this area. It is also worth noting that the Office of Naval Defense provides funding for research more closely tied to the military applications. For example, in the past, they have funded neural prosthetics related research for neural control of autonomous undersea vehicles.
The NIH (National Institute of Health) has a program devoted to encouraging small businesses to participate in assistive technology research that facilitates the rehabilitation of individuals with disabilities. This is called the Innovative Technologies for Enhancing Function for individuals with Disabilities program. The program provide opportunities for two years of Phase I support with a budget not to exceed $100,000 in total costs per year, including fixed fees, and Phase II support with a budget not to exceed $400,000 in total costs, including fixed fees, per year.
Another funding resource is the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), Neural Prostheses program, offering exploratory/developmental research grants of up to $275,000 over two years, and the Neurotechnology Research, Development, and Enhancement grant worth up to $250K per year.
The last two notable agencies that give funding in the neural prosthetics related research are the National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research (NCMRR) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The former has a mission to improve the lives of disabled individuals while the latter aims to accelerate the development of innovative technologies with significant commercial payoffs and widespread benefits to the nation. In 2004 NCMRR accepted applications for six different neural research projects and expects $15 million total available in funds, while NIST received $142.3 million for the fiscal year of 2005.
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