Falcon: a highly flexible open-source software for closed-loop neuroscience

Davide Cilliberti, Fabian Kloosterman
IOPscience, 2017

Closed-loop experiments provide unique insights into brain dynamics and function. To facilitate a wide range of closed-loop experiments, we created an open-source software platform that enables high-performance real-time processing of streaming experimental data.

We wrote Falcon, a C++ multi-threaded software in which the user can load and execute an arbitrary processing graph. Each node of a Falcon graph is mapped to a single thread and nodes communicate with each other through thread-safe buffers. The framework allows for easy implementation of new processing nodes and data types. Falcon was tested both on a 32-core and a 4-core workstation. Streaming data was read from either a commercial acquisition system (Neuralynx) or the open-source Open Ephys hardware, while closed-loop TTL pulses were generated with a USB module for digital output. We characterized the round-trip latency of our Falcon-based closed-loop system, as well as the specific latency contribution of the software architecture, by testing processing graphs with up to 32 parallel pipelines and eight serial stages. We finally deployed Falcon in a task of real-time detection of population bursts recorded live from the hippocampus of a freely moving rat.

Main results.
On Neuralynx hardware, round-trip latency was well below 1 ms and stable for at least 1 h, while on Open Ephys hardware latencies were below 15 ms. The latency contribution of the software was below 0.5 ms. Round-trip and software latencies were similar on both 32- and 4-core workstations. Falcon was used successfully to detect population bursts online with ~40 ms average latency.

Falcon is a novel open-source software for closed-loop neuroscience. It has sub-millisecond intrinsic latency and gives the experimenter direct control of CPU resources. We envisage Falcon to be a useful tool to the neuroscientific community for implementing a wide variety of closed-loop experiments, including those requiring use of complex data structures and real-time execution of computationally intensive algorithms, such as population neural decoding/encoding from large cell assemblies.

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