General Motors (GM) and Virginia Tech launched a new joint laboratory to study neuroinformatics, a scientific field that studies and measures brain activity and could ultimately translate into improvements in how humans interact with machines and their environment, like reaching for a glass of water or interfacing with their vehicle while driving.

The Laboratory of Neuroinformatics will be located in the College of Engineering’s computer science department at Virginia Tech, where the faculty and students will collaborate with General Motors research scientists to develop new algorithms capable of processing massive amounts of data that neuroscientists collect from the human brain.

“General Motors has a rich history of supporting scientific advancements. The advances in sensing and measurement technologies in the neuroscience community are making it possible to collect vast amounts of data. We view this as an opportunity to develop data mining methods that will benefit this community as well as have practical applications within General Motors,” said Susan Smyth, director of the Manufacturing Systems Research Lab.

The work done at the new Laboratory for Neuroinformatics will be co-directed by K.P. Unnikrishnan, research scientist at GM Research and Development in Warren, Mich., and Naren Ramakrishnan, associate professor of computer science at Virginia Tech.

“We look forward to working with Dr. Naren Ramakrishnan and his team because we see value in Virginia Tech’s interdisciplinary approach to this work," Smyth adds. “Dr. Ramakrishnan’s background in bioinformatics, computer science, data-mining, and problem-solving systems combines solid science with an appreciation for practical solutions.”

“We are glad that GM is partnering with Virginia Tech. Through initiatives such as the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science (ICTAS), the College of Engineering has a history of innovating in emerging disciplines. This project will provide impetus to the growing area of neuroinformatics,” said Richard Benson, dean of engineering.

Unnikrishnan, a GM physicist who has conducted neuroscience-related research at GM for 20 years, foresees new automotive applications for the work. “Creating brain-machine interfaces is the next frontier. In the near-term, we will develop advanced algorithms that could analyze data from cars—from mechanical and electrical systems—to maintain vehicle health. It’s interesting that solutions we’re looking for in the research field of neuroscience might end up serving us well on an assembly line.”

“Neuroscientists are making the transition from studying neurons to studying networks—the sequences of firings and spikes of activity across big groups of neurons,” said Ramakrishnan. “What we are trying to do is analyze all this data and discover something about the network—the connections and relationships.”

GM and Virginia Tech scientists expect that brain machine interfaces could potentially interface with prosthetics devices such as an artificial retina. Senses could be restored to people who have lost their vision, touch, hearing, and motor skills.

General Motors Corp. (NYSE: GM), the world’s largest automaker, has been the annual global industry sales leader for 76 years. Founded in 1908, GM today employs about 280,000 people around the world with global headquarters in Detroit. GM manufactures its cars and trucks in 33 countries. In 2006, nearly 9.1 million GM cars and trucks were sold globally under the following brands: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, GM Daewoo, Holden, HUMMER, Opel, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn and Vauxhall. GM’s OnStar subsidiary is the industry leader in vehicle safety, security and information services. For more information on GM visit them online.

The College of Engineering at Virginia Tech is internationally recognized for its excellence in 14 engineering disciplines and computer science. The college's 5,500 undergraduates benefit from an innovative curriculum that provides a "hands-on, minds-on" approach to engineering education, complementing classroom instruction with two unique design-and-build facilities and a strong Cooperative Education Program. With more than 50 research centers and numerous laboratories, the college offers its 1,800 graduate students opportunities in advanced fields of study such as biomedical engineering, state-of-the-art microelectronics, and nanotechnology. Virginia Tech, the most comprehensive university in Virginia, is dedicated to quality, innovation, and results to the commonwealth, the nation, and the world.


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