May 26, 2021

Request for proposals on engineering approaches to responsible neural interface design

This Research Award is now closed

About

The exploration of neural and neuromotor interfaces is growing both in academia and industry. With these technical developments come ethical questions about data management and privacy, diversity and inclusion, agency and identity, societal impact, among other topics. These questions require careful consideration both early and often in the process of research and development.

Facebook Reality Labs (FRL) has been exploring neural and neuromotor data as potential inputs for controlling augmented reality and/or virtual reality systems. In keeping with Facebook’s Responsible Innovation principles, the FRL research teams work to surface and consider neuroethical considerations in tandem with system design. As part of that effort, FRL is pleased to solicit proposals that leverage engineering to address the principles of considering everyone, putting people first by treating data with care, and providing controls that matter by developing tools and methods for data management and privacy.

To foster innovation in this area, and to deepen our collaboration with academia, Facebook is pleased to invite faculty to respond to this call for research proposals pertaining to the aforementioned topics. A total of up to five awards are available, worth up to $150,000 each. Payment will be made to the proposer’s host university as an unrestricted gift. Teams that are able to publish results are strongly encouraged to choose an open access academic journal.

Please contact us at neurotech@fb.com for any questions.

Applications are now closed

Application Dates

  • Launch Date May 26, 2021
  • Deadline July 14, 2021, 5:00 p.m. AOE
  • Winners Announced August 2021

Areas of Interest

The topics of interest focus on the development of noninvasive neurotechnologies for human use — animal studies are not in scope. Areas of interest include, but are not limited to, the following:

1. Inclusive optical neurotechnologies

Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) depends on the ability to reliably track and quantify light absorption changes related to neural tissue oxygenation. This topic aims to both identify and address barriers to achieving reliable fNIRS performance across diverse individuals. Successful proposals will contribute to the development of inclusive interfaces by considering diversity and broad representation in the proposed research studies.

Areas of interest include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Quantifying performance variability. How does technical performance (e.g. light absorption, photon count) change across different physical characteristics? What metrics or frameworks should be used to evaluate performance across demographics and why?
  • Designing for generalizability. What design features (e.g. cap design, source-detector configurations) promote generalizable system performance across different physical characteristics? How is this implemented?
  • Handling hair. What methods improve optode contact and system fit across different hair types? Evaluations of interest include: different amounts of hair, different hair textures, and different hair colors. Forehead and/or wrist measurements to provide baseline data are within scope.

2. Inclusive surface EMG wristband technology

Decoding neuromotor signals into motor commands for AR/VR interactions requires reliable performance from everyone who might use the technology. This topic focuses on accounting for differences in forearm characteristics across the global population. While the proposals should focus on surface electromyography (EMG) systems, intramuscular recordings to provide ground truth signals are within scope as well. Successful proposals will contribute to the development of inclusive interfaces by considering diversity and broad representation in the proposed research studies.

Areas of interest include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Quantifying performance variability. How does technical performance (signal quality and/or decoding performance) of EMG recorded at the wrist change across different physical characteristics (e.g. wrist size, arm hair, muscle anatomy differences)? What metrics or frameworks should be used to evaluate performance across demographics and why?
  • Designing for generalizability. What hardware features (e.g. electrode type, configurations) or decoding algorithms promote generalizable system performance across different physical characteristics? How is this implemented?

3. Privacy-preserving methods for handling neural data

Privacy by design is an important aspect of responsible neurotechnology development, and benefits from the proactive consideration and development of privacy-preserving methods and tools. Successful proposals for this topic will surface the privacy considerations related to the chosen technology and demonstrate the feasibility of a method/methods to protect these data (e.g. differential privacy, federated learning, or other creative methodologies).

Areas of interest include the following:

  • fNIRS data privacy: how does one collect only the minimum data needed for brain-computer interactions? Is there sensitive information that can be decoded from fNIRS data (e.g. cardiovascular information) and what methods can be used to protect these data while maintaining their functionality for AR/VR interactions?
  • EMG data privacy: how does one collect only the minimum data needed for motor human-computer interactions? Is there sensitive information that can be decoded from electromyography (EMG)/motor unit data and what methods can be used to protect these data while maintaining their functionality for AR/VR interactions?

Requirements

Proposals should include

  • A summary of the project (1-2 pages) explaining the area of focus, a description of techniques, any relevant prior work, and a timeline with milestones and expected outcomes.
  • A draft budget description (1 page) including an approximate cost of the award and explanation of how funds would be spent
  • Curriculum Vitae for all project participants.
  • Organization details; this will include tax information and administrative contact details

Eligibility

Awards must comply with applicable US and international laws, regulations and policies.

  • Applicants must be current faculty at an accredited academic institution that awards research degrees to PhD students.
  • Applicants must be the Principal Investigator on any resulting award.
  • Organizations must be a nonprofit or non-governmental organization with recognized legal status in their respective country (equal to 501(c)(3) status under the United States Internal Revenue Code).

Frequently Asked Questions

Most of the RFP awards are an unrestricted gift. Because of its nature, salary/headcount could be included as part of the budget presented for the RFP. Since the award/gift is paid to the university, they will be able to allocate the funds to that winning project and have the freedom to use as they need. All Facebook teams are different and have different expectations concerning deliverables, timing, etc. Long story short – yes, money for salary/headcount can be included. It’s up to the reviewing team to determine if the percentage spend is reasonable and how that relates to the decision if the project is a winner or not.

We are flexible, but ideally proposals submitted are single-spaced, Times New Roman, 12 pt font.

Research awards are given year-round and funding years/duration can vary by proposal.

Yes, award funds can be used to cover a researcher’s salary.

Budgets can vary by institution and geography, but overall research funds ideally cover the following: graduate or post-graduate students’ employment/tuition; other research costs (e.g., equipment, laptops, incidental costs); travel associated with the research (conferences, workshops, summits, etc.); overhead for research gifts is limited to 5%

One person will need to be the primary PI (i.e., the submitter that will receive all email notifications); however, you’ll be given the opportunity to list collaborators/co-PIs in the submission form. Please note in your budget breakdown how the funds should be dispersed amongst PIs.

No, the research teams should plan to use their own and/or commercially available recording systems for their experiments.

Terms & Conditions

Please read these terms carefully before proceeding.

  • Facebook’s decisions will be final in all matters relating to Facebook RFP solicitations, including whether or not to grant an award and the interpretation of Facebook RFP Terms and Conditions. By submitting a proposal, applicants affirm that they have read and agree to these Terms and Conditions.
  • Facebook is authorized to evaluate proposals submitted under its RFPs, to consult with outside experts, as needed, in evaluating proposals, and to grant or deny awards using criteria determined by Facebook to be appropriate and at Facebook’s sole discretion. Facebook’s decisions will be final in all matters relating to its RFPs, and applicants agree not to challenge any such decisions.
  • Facebook will not be required to treat any part of a proposal as confidential or protected by copyright, and may use, edit, modify, copy, reproduce and distribute all or a portion of the proposal in any manner for the sole purposes of administering the Facebook RFP website and evaluating the contents of the proposal.
  • Personal data submitted with a proposal, including name, mailing address, phone number, and email address of the applicant and other named researchers in the proposal may be collected, processed, stored and otherwise used by Facebook for the purposes of administering Facebook’s RFP website, evaluating the contents of the proposal, and as otherwise provided under Facebook’s Privacy Policy.
  • Neither Facebook nor the applicant is obligated to enter into a business transaction as a result of the proposal submission. Facebook is under no obligation to review or consider the proposal.
  • Feedback provided in a proposal regarding Facebook products or services will not be treated as confidential or protected by copyright, and Facebook is free to use such feedback on an unrestricted basis with no compensation to the applicant. The submission of a proposal will not result in the transfer of ownership of any IP rights.
  • Applicants represent and warrant that they have authority to submit a proposal in connection with a Facebook RFP and to grant the rights set forth herein on behalf of their organization. All awards provided by Facebook in connection with this RFP shall be used only in accordance with applicable laws and shall not be used in any way, directly or indirectly, to facilitate any act that would constitute bribery or an illegal kickback, an illegal campaign contribution, or would otherwise violate any applicable anti-corruption or political activities law.
  • Awards granted in connection with RFP proposals will be subject to terms and conditions contained in the unrestricted gift agreement (or, in some cases, other mechanisms) pursuant to which the award funding will be provided. Applicants understand and acknowledge that they will need to agree to these terms and conditions to receive an award.