Brain Computer Interfaces – 10 Startups to Watch
It’s only a matter of time before we’re able to control things with our minds using brain-computer interfaces, even communicate to each other just using our minds. Think telepathy is just fiction? It’s not. Facebook is actually hiring neuroscientists to build brain computer interfaces so that all you people who spend half your waking time on Facebook telling us what interesting lives you have can now do it without having to type. Does your jaw get sore after speaking with your friends on the phone? This first-world problem affects nearly everyone with friends, and help is now on the way. Soon, you can just speak with them telepathically.
Just recently we gave you a glimpse of brain interface technology that’s going to redefine our concept of a user interface with AR/VR, enable us with neuroprosthesis, and apparently allow us to control all our social media relationships with our minds. Whether brain interface technology will be part of our lives or not in the coming years will be determined by how much investment goes into this space. We bring you 10 companies who are deep diving into brain computer interface technologies that may someday allow us to live stream our minds on Facebook.
Founded in 2012, MindMaze is a Swiss company building a platform that combines VR, brain imaging, computer graphics, and neuroscience. The Company has taken in two rounds of funding totaling $108.5 million so far.
We discussed MindMaze before in an article on Virtual Reality and Healthcare. What they have developed is a user interface integrated into a wearable Head Mount Display (HMD) and 3D motion-capture cameras to create a VR and AR environment for patients with neurological disorders. It intends to provide multi-sensory feedback to patients with brain injuries to stimulate motor functions during rehabilitation. It is the first thought-powered VR/AR and motion-capture game system. It’s like being in a simulation and you controlling the outcome with your thoughts.
We’ve mention Kernel Co before in one of our posts related to AI and brain implants and even dedicated an entire article to this amazing company which has taken in $100 million in funding from technology pioneer Bryan Johnson who is investing in moonshot ideas like chips for your brain and space mining. While you can read more about the nitty-gritty details in our article on Kernel, here’s a quick summary. Kernel is targeting the hippocampus which writes your long-term memories. They are using AI to “read” what the hippocampus writes to a chip and they are at 80% accuracy. Isn’t that just mind-blowing?
Founded in 1997, Mountain View, California startup NeuroPace has taken in three rounds of funding totaling $67 million from investors that include Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and New Enterprise Associates. NeuroPace is developing a medical device that identifies unusual brain activity and then sends a pulse to counteract or disrupt the unusual signals marking the onset of an epileptic seizure.
Just like all neurological disorders, the onset of an epileptic seizure has a brainwave signature that can be isolated and identified. The NeuroPace device is known as the RNS System and it functions much like a pacemaker. The RNS System monitors and responds to specific brain activity to stop seizures. There are 65 million souls throughout the world who walk around every day not knowing if they’re going to suddenly have a seizure or not. NeuroPace may give these people a much needed permanent solution.
Founded in 2008, Pittsburgh-based startup Cereve took in $38 million just this month from notorious investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. to develop a device that helps people with sleep disorders or insomnia.
Why is interest in sleep disorder significant? There are about 50 to 70 million Americans who suffer from chronic sleep disorders. Cerêve offers a technology addressing the root cause of sleep disorders which is our mind’s hyperarousal during sleep. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted commercial clearance for Cerêve(™) Sleep System as a prescription device. FDA clearance should give investors a hint of how close this device is to being available to the general public. As Cerêve so aptly puts it, “a better night’s sleep is just around the corner”.
Meditation is a word that brings a lot of things to your mind like focus, yoga, breathing, exercises, postures, diet, and even lifestyle. There’s a company that reduces the focus and the years of practice into a simple plug-and-play routine. The product is called Muse and the company that developed this product is InteraXon.
Founded in 2007, InteraXon has taken in a total of $17.2 million in funding so far from investors that include Ashton Kutcher. Yes, you got it right, Ashton Kutcher of CBS comedy series Two and a Half Men. Don’t brush off Kutcher just yet because this actor is a serious investor and in fact created a venture fund which has already made infusions to companies like AirBnB, Uber, and Spotify. InteraXon’s Muse is a brain-sensing headband that helps users to elevate meditation through real-time audio feedback. (Adding up all your yoga instructor fees in a year might help you decide if the Muse’s $249 price tag is worth a try.) We’d fall into the skeptic camp on this one but 420 reviews on Amazon give it a 4.1 out of 5.
Founded in 2014, San Francisco startup Rythm took in an $11 million seed funding round last year from Xavier Niel, a French telecommunications mogul and Dr. Laurent Alexandre, an influential French biotech investor personally invested in finding out more about this technology to prolong human life.
Sleep apparently goes through a cycle of light sleep, deep sleep, and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. The Company’s product “Dreem” is a headband that recognizes deep sleep patterns and introduces auditory or sound stimulation to keep you there and enhance the quality of your sleep.
A good night sleep apparently restores energy at the cellular level, increases our brain’s ability to learn and retain information, releases hormones responsible for growth and metabolism, and slows down degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. Rythm is currently offering “Dreem” for $349 to the first 500 customers. Sounds like these guys are solving some serious first-world problems.
While Cerêve improves the human condition by allowing the brain to achieve the most restful sleep, a company in Somerville, Massachusetts is aiming higher and going for optimizing the potential of the human brain. Founded in 2015, BrainCo has taken in $5.9 million in funding so far with the aim of improving attention spans in order to help those with focus issues and learning difficulties through wearables (with the brain-machine interface) and neurofeedback training.
BrainCo’s offering includes an integrated classroom system that uses their wearables or headbands to see what’s happening inside a student’s brain while in class. Teachers can have feedback if the attention of students is wandering around or if students are simply bored. (It’s really going to redefine the expression “reading your thoughts”.) A teacher can change the approach to teaching real-time. It will be an exciting prospect moving this technology from a controlled environment to a real classroom. Does this mean no more adderol or ritalin? Just how are our kids going to get through their college classes without using hard drugs?
Remember BrainCo we just mentioned earlier in this article? The founder of BrainCo also took in $5 million to found BrainRobotics in 2015 which plans to provide an affordable solution for arm amputees to use customized robotic prosthesis that is controlled with the mind for a price point under $3,000.
The prosthetic limbs motor function is driven by electroencephalography (EEG) which means the limbs are controlled by the same myoelectric signals sent by the brain to the muscles. The robotic hands and arms designed by the company have an uncanny similarity to those you see in the movie Terminator.
Founded in 2007, Missouri-based NeuroLutions has taken in a total of $2.15 million in funding to develop a revolutionary platform using Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) technology to restore functions to paralyzed limbs. 795,000 people suffer a stroke every year in the United States. NeuroLutions has developed a robotic exoskeleton they call IpsiHand. The use of the IpsiHand causes the brain to send signals to the limb immobilized by a stroke. This continuous firing of brain signals eventually establishes new synaptic connections restoring function to the affected side of the body.
Founded in 2015, Cambridge, Massachusetts startup Neurable just received its first round of funding in the amount of $2 million. Neurable is working on using brain activity to operate devices like toys or even cars. Neurable’s brain-computer interface uses electroencephalography (EEG) to record brain activity, analyze data and provide users with full three-dimensional control in real-time. This will enable things like hands-free control of menus and game options in AR avoiding the limitations of existing technologies like voice commands and eye-tracking because it uses the power of the user’s brain. The best thing of all is no wires!
Neurable is targeting manufacturers of AR/VR headsets and content developers with its software development kit (SDK) already made compatible for Oculus Rift, Microsoft HoloLens, HTC Vive, and other leading AR/VR headset brands. The SDK will be released to select developers in the second half of this year.
Just reading about what these 10 startups are getting up to with brain-computer interfaces is like reading a page out of a sci-fi book. Truly incredible things are happening right now with brain-computer interfaces and even Facebook is getting in on the action. Going forward, we’ll be sure to keep you posted on what opportunities might be out there for retail investors in this space.
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