Global neural start-ups market heats-up

A slew of new technologies are entering the neural market, we’re interested in those that provide a pathway to deeper neural integration. Let’s take a look.

The brain — and its consciousness, memories and thought processes — are one of the body’s final frontiers. Neural technology (NeuroTech) is aiming to go where no-one has gone before, but is it really Warp Factor 9, or just steady as she goes? We take a look at some of the key players in the field.

Longevity.Technology: Back in 2007, The World Health Organisation estimated that about 1 in 6 people had some sort of brain disorder [1]  that’s over a billion people who could have benefitted from NeuroTech and the figure is likely to be much higher now. It’s no surprise, then, that companies are investing in and developing technology that promotes brain Longevity.

NeuroTech startups are rolling out innovations never before thought of. Exciting technology that can augment and enhance human beings in terms of cognitive performance and memory and help us to understand and record consciousness and thought processes.

NeuroTech can even go one step further, merging biological intelligence with artificial intelligence via a neural network and possibly even uploading the former into the latter on a permanent basis, creating permanent artificial singularity.

That’s some way off, despite the hopes of futurist Ray Kurzweil et al. In the meantime, however, there are plenty of companies that are pushing the NeuroTech envelope; getting to grips with 100 billion neurons, each of which connects to 10,000 of its neighbours – no small undertaking.

IEEE Brain – part of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) – exists to “facilitate cross-disciplinary collaboration and coordination to advance research, standardization and development of technologies in neuroscience to help improve the human condition.” From translating brain signals directly into speech to the latest brain-controlled prosthetics, IEEE Brain members are at the cutting edge of research. As well as developing guidelines for use of neurotechnologies in practice, IEEE Brain members are mapping the brain and categorising types of neurons, working out a road-map for treatments and therapies.

San Francisco-based Halo Neuroscience is combining brain stimulation and sport in its Halo Sport device. This sends weak electrical pulses into the user’s brain which have the effect of enhancing the efficiency of physical training by using the concept of neuro-priming.

Neuro-priming uses electrical stimulation to increase plasticity in the brain before an activity and, when paired with physical training, results in increased strength, endurance and muscle memory. Not only have they disclosed funding of $24.7M, but USA Cycling is partnering with Halo to train its top cyclists and according to the company, US Olympians achieved 45% faster results with Halo Sport (presumably not MPH/KPH). With results like that, the future looks bright.

Synchron names both DARPA and the US Department for Defense among its investors. The startup is developing an implantable device, called the Stentrode, which is aiming to provide a safe and straightforward way for paralyzed patients to achieve direct brain control of mobility-assistive devices using a small, flexible and minimally-invasive device which passes through the crucial blood-brain barrier via the blood vessels and implants in the brain. Once there it can interpret electrical data emitted by neurons and communicates wirelessly, using modular training software to control assistive technologies through thought. Early-stage clinical trials are in preparation.

Also honing a brain-computer interface is Neurable, a company with a two-pronged approach to using brain activity to power software and devices – development for those unable to communicate and also for AR/VR gaming purposes. Machine learning methods have been employed to reduce the delay between analysis of neural activity and output, with the aim of bringing it down to real-time. Neurable have also developed a headset that uses dry electrodes, rather than the usual wet ones, which has brought the calibration time down from 30 minutes to just two.

Elon Musk’s Neuralink is in the process of developing “high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers [2].” His goal to create “symbiosis with artificial intelligence [3],” will move another step further next year, when he hopes to have the first prototype chip implanted in a human brain. It’s not just about Singularity though – Musk hopes to treat brain disorders helping us to “preserve and enhance your own brain” and to “create a well-aligned future [4].”

Research in the field is as much about achieving Longevity through tackling disability and preserving function, as it is about Singularity.

The TRL score for this Longevity.Technology domain is currently set at: ‘Late proof of concept demonstrated in real life conditions.’


Image credit: Colin Behrens from Pixabay