Neuroprosthetics, more than any other area of AI development, arouses both amazement and fear of future possibilities. There are some people who envision a post-apocalyptic future when the talk of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) comes up: futures where life has imitated art and the omen of science fiction films like i-Robot and Terminator disastrous were recognized.
Copper micropillar array 3D printed on PEDOT: PSS. Image credit: Exaddon
Even in a benign AI scenario, we are left behind.
However, researchers at a company or institution involved in BCIs / BMIs are happy to reveal details of an entirely different reality – one that contradicts the dystopian cyborg future that Hollywood so often portrays.
Neuroprosthetics is simply defined as the combination of neuroscience with biomedical engineering and involves the use of external computing power to either replace or support human functionality. While there has been neuronal control of robot limbs since 2008, new developments have recently emerged with the progressive merging of human-AI components.
For companies like Musk’s Neuralink, the focus is firmly on ensuring the altruistic use of science. Like Paradromics, Columbia University, and others, Neuralink uses its resources and ambitions to improve the lives of people suffering from extremely debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, which are caused by the deterioration of nerve pathways.
These BCI applications use artificial computer systems and energy to compensate for the damaged nerve networks and brain functions in the patients: very different from Hollywood’s images of computers that control humanity.
Object uniformity and repeatability: 1600 columns printed on a 1 mm x 1 mm grid. Each column is ~ 1.6 µm in diameter. Image credit: Exaddon
These technologies are supposed to perceive and carry out functions that are no longer possible with the human body. This is achieved by placing an electrode sensor on the brain, which is then connected to external computer systems. From the Zuckerman Institute at Columbia University, which empowers aphasic individuals with the ability to speak, to preventing seizures in those with drug-resistant epilepsy  These applications are groundbreaking.
While the reality of the implantation of electrodes in the brain is a legitimate concern, the possibilities these devices offer to patients cannot be overemphasized. Using a mind-controlled exoskeleton to enable a quadriplegic to walk again is a grant of freedom that is incomprehensible to most people with disabilities. Similarly, giving back the power of language to people with aphasia is an amazing gift from an area of science that is still in its infancy. Some of the world’s brightest minds are devoted to advancing this profound and novel area of science, and what the future may hold is incredibly exciting.
Inherent technical difficulties
However, these modern wonders are not simply a plug and play solution. This technology is necessarily highly invasive because of the requirement for an implanted device – an extraordinarily complex task.
Typically referred to as electrocorticography (EKG), these implants / devices, placed directly on the surface of the brain, provide information with much higher fidelity than externally placed electrodes. However, in terms of attachment, the implants also add much more complexity. One of the key requirements is the need for biocompatible microscopic electrodes that can carry electrical signals from the brain that are so small that they can be left in situ indefinitely. The use of microscopic electrodes, defined as “µECoG”, is a new revolution that is rapidly gaining momentum.
Shortcomings in existing technology
Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of implantable technology today is that “Mechanical mismatch between conventional rigid electronic materials and that dynamic, soft and curvilinear human body “ .
Because of the inflexible nature of typical substrates, there are real concerns about long term durability and comfort. This is related to the need for all materials used to have signal conductivity with high fidelity, which has shown real problems with non-metals.
Current approaches largely offer gold or platinum electrodes on a range of substrate options such as platinum, gold, iridium, polyimide, and others.
The use of flexible substrates consisting of arrays of micropillaries has been investigated as a viable solution, as suggested by Malliaras et al.  Who made PEDOT: PSS microarrays containing electrodes with an area of 10 × 10 µm?2with a center to center spacing of 60 µm. Since their study, PEDOT has been extensively studied as a promising material for its combination of good conductivity and flexibility.
Opportunities with Exaddon’s µAM technology
Image credit: Exaddon
The novel µAM technology from Exaddon enables the printing of micropillaries in pure metal with high conductivity. With possible diameters below 1 µm, the CERES µAM printing system is suitable for printing the microscale metal structures that are required for mechanically stable, conductive electrodes. The nanometer resolution of the Exaddon system ensures exceptional precision with the smallest possible metal production capacities that are possible in 3D.
Above is a microneedle array printed on PEDOT: PSS as an exhibit of a workable solution and application of Exaddon’s CERES printing technology in the emerging field of neuroprosthetics.
 Mehrali M., Bagherifard S., Akbari M. et al. Connecting Electronics to the Human Body: A Path to a Cybernetic Future. Adv Sci (Weinh). 2018; 5 (10): 1700931. Published 2018 Aug 1. doi: 10.1002 / advs.201700931
 Khodagholy D., Doublet T., Gurfinkel M., Quilichini P., Ismailova E., Leleux P., Herve T., Sanaur S., Bernard C., Malliaras GG, Adv. Mater. 2011, 23, H268.
This information has been obtained, reviewed, and adapted from materials provided by Exaddon.
For more information on this source, see Exaddon.
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