7 leading Brain-Computer Interface Companies and their current and prospective products
Many have said that the brain and mind are the final frontier of science. Indeed, very little is known about that gray mass of cells in our skull that plays an important role in cognition; regulation of heart, lung, and other systems and functions; movement, and more. With approximately 100 billion neural connections, our brains are capable of processing billions of bits of information per second. The latest trend in unlocking the mysteries of the mind is brain-computer interfaces.
In the public sector, initiatives such as the Human Brain Project have sought to accelerate research that can help us learn more about our own brains, in order to be able to better treat diseases and improve cognitive functioning. In the private sector, a number of companies are working to develop effective brain-machine interfaces for a wide range of uses. Read on to learn more about seven companies focused on direct communication from human brains to machines and the technologies and approaches they are using to make the future arrive faster.
Founded by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Neuralink Corporation represents the tech visionary’s latest innovative effort, this time with the goal of merging computers with the human brain. Neuralink endeavors to create a super-fast, high bandwidth brain-machine interface which can help the brain work better using artificial intelligence (AI) concepts. Neuralink has received over $151 million in funding since its founding in 2016.
The company has looked to academia to hire several high-profile neuroscientists who can lend their expertise to developing the new frontier of brain-machine interfaces. Ongoing projects seek to outfit the human brain with thin threadlike electrodes – sewing the ‘threads’ into the brain — so that the brain’s cells can be directly accessed and manipulated using artificial intelligence. Musk has stated that the ultimate goal of Neuralink is to create a symbiosis between the human brain and AI.
Neurable describes itself as a company that builds “full-stack neurotechnology tools that interpret human intent, measure emotion, and provide telekinetic control of the digital world.” The company made news in 2017 for inventing the world’s first brain-controlled virtual reality (VR) game. Players wore an EEG headset while they sat in front of a computer and were asked to drive a remote-controlled car around with their mind.
The brain-computer interface company recently raised $6 million to move beyond its role as a VR game developer and work on building a next-generation brain-computer interface that can have a variety of real-world applications, such as augmented reality and VR wearables that can be used in a variety of settings and industries, such as transportation and construction.
Emotiv develops hardware and software that can be used by doctors to help improve healthcare. The company’s wireless electroencephalogram (EEG) headsets can examine stress, focus, and more. Emotiv’s products enable clinicians build three-dimensional models of the brain to help improve diagnosis of brain diseases and disorders. Researchers have also developed brain-computer interfaces for a variety of other uses, such as controlling blinking lights with one’s brain.
The original goal of Kernel was to develop a way to store memories outside of the brain, and upload new memories to the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center. The tech startup, in 2017, boasted that it could boost human intelligence using neural chip implants. This excitement was premature, and the technology is not there yet for the exciting products Kernel had in mind. So, over the past couple of years, the company has changed directions and is now seeking to develop technologies which can both measure and stimulate electrical activity from small groups of neurons. Like Neuralink, Kernel has also been recruiting academic researchers who can contribute their expertise to accelerate the pace of innovation.
Startup NextMind is one of a group of startups building noninvasive brain-computer interfaces. NextMind recently made waves at the CES 2020 conference for its wearable brain-sensing device, the first of its kind in the industry. A fancy EEG that can record the brain’s electrical activity, the NextMind brain sensing device is lightweight and uses machine learning to translate EEG activity into commands. The wearable brain sensing device is a step up from eye-tracking software, which has been used for years to seek to examine cognition noninvasively, and can help measure intent, as NextMind’s founder, Sid Kouider, recently told VentureBeat. The ultimate goal of NextMind is to be able to decode and understand information from the brain in real time.
MELTIN MMI describes itself as “developing Cyborg Technology that connects bodies with machines.” The company’s products examine biosignals to produce highly accurate real time analyses of body movements. Their MELTANT-α cyborg is a robotic hand model which is used by a human user to create motions as similar as possible to our own hands while adding features such as enhanced flexibility, speed, strength, power, and accuracy. The cyborgs can be operated by a human user wearing the robotic devices, or remotely, even from overseas, thanks to the MELTIN MMI servers. While creating the MELTANT-α hand was the primary goal of the company, it has now set its sights on other modalities beyond movement, such as vision.
BitBrain offers both hardware products and software solutions in neurotechnology. Launched in 2010 by researchers at the University of Zaragoza in Spain, BitBrain has brought academic brain-computer interface applications outside of the laboratory setting. This was BitBrain’s main goal – to bring state-of-the-art wearable neurotechnology to society at large. BItBrain’s applied neuroscience solutions have informed consumer neuroscience in the neuromarketing field, and have worked towards cognitive enhancement through their health platform. BitBrain also has several software tools, such as the BitBrain Programming Platform, which seeks to accelerate the development of brain-computer interfaces.
The future of brain-computer interfaces remains exciting. With the advance of machine learning and artificial intelligence tools, coupled with the increasing power of computer processors, it may not be long until the neurotechnologies championed by these companies become a reality.