Kernel, a medtech company based in California, has developed the Kernel Flow, a wearable helmet that can perform time domain functional near-infrared spectroscopy (TD-fNIRS) imaging of the brain. The system has a smaller footprint, is less expensive and less complex than benchtop TD-fNIRS systems, but has demonstrated similar imaging performance. The imaging modality measures changes in blood oxygenation levels in specific brain regions to infer information about brain activity. This new wearable technology could make this imaging modality more accessible and user friendly.
Technological advances and miniaturization seem to go hand in hand. This latest technology is no exception, but the developers also designed the new miniaturized brain imaging system as a wearable helmet. The device, called the Kernel Flow, can perform TD-fNIRS brain imaging, which involves using near-infrared light to determine hemoglobin concentration in various brain regions to assess brain activity.
Until now, TD-fNIRS brain imaging systems were expensive, complicated and bulky. The Kernel Flow aims to change that, and weighs just 2 kilograms (4.4 lbs). The helmet consists of four plates arranged around the head that contain 52 modules, which each contain two laser sources. The rapid laser pulses pass through the scalp and skull and a series of six detectors then record photon arrival times.
So far, the company tested the device in volunteers who performed a finger tapping task while wearing the headset, and it has shown promising results that are similar to benchtop devices.
However, the technology still requires a little refinement to account for different hair types and skin types. Yet, if it becomes practical to image brain activity in a new way, the potential to perform novel neurological studies is vast.
See a video about the helmet below.
Study in Journal of Biomedical Optics: Kernel Flow: a high channel count scalable time-domain functional near-infrared spectroscopy system