9 Neurotechnology Companies Merging Humans and Machines
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The days of living inside a biological human shell are almost over. At least that’s what futurists are hoping for, as we roll out more advanced neurotechnology that allows humans to interface directly with machines. It’s possibly both the most exciting and most alarming thing happening in life sciences right now.
We previously looked at how the startup landscape of brain-computer interfaces (BCI) is changing. There’s Kernel, a startup that provides BCI technology through its new business model, neuroscience as a service (NaaS). Mr. Elon Musk’s pet neuroscience company, Neuralink, showed off a monkey playing Pong using just its thoughts. And researchers have been able to develop a BCI technology where electrodes were jabbed into the brain of a patient with paralysis and gave him the power to write on a screen using just his mind. A recent Nature article highlights another breakthrough in BCI – a new high-performance technology that can allow users to write up to 90 characters per minute at 94% accuracy with just their thoughts. That’s almost as fast and (though maybe less accurate) as hormone-filled teenagers texting late at night.
As Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” While we’re still waiting for telekinesis and telepathy to be made available through the app store, here are nine neurotechnology companies creating simpler magic between human flesh and machine.
Neurotechnology Companies for Mobility
New Yawk City-based Synchron was founded in 2016 to develop bioelectronic devices to help patients with limited movement and disabilities to interface with the physical world. We covered Synchron after they’d taken in $10 million from a Series A in 2016. Previous investors included the shadowy government agency known as DARPA. The company has since raised a total of $42.6 million after a recent Series B infusion of $32.6 million led by Khosla Ventures. The startup is building minimally invasive devices and received breakthrough device designation from the FDA last August. The current Stentrode device is embedded into the jugular vein and uses sensors to pick up on brain activity.
The company is taking on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurodegenerative disease that leads to loss of motor control over muscles. Two patients with ALW were able to control computers with mouse clicks of 92% accuracy and type at 14 to 20 words per minute.
Founded in 2008, Blackrock Neurotech is a startup headquartered in Salt Lake City that’s raised $10 million, with bloodthirsty billionaire Peter Thiel throwing his own cash into the ring. The company is developing implantable technologies to help patients walk, talk, see, hear, and feel. Blackrock Neurotech claims to be the first company to provide tetraplegic patients the power to control robotic limbs using the mind, as well as being the first to help ALS patients communicate with a mind-driven audio speller. Its technology relies on FDA-approved in-brain implants with an expiration date of seven years, with wireless devices in the works.
The company also provides neurotechnology hardware for a range of applications, from treating pain to epilepsy.
Founded in 2016, Bahstun-based Pison Technology is a startup that’s pulling together the hardware and software to build out wearable technologies that allow humans to control machines using gestures. The company is a spin-off from MIT and has raised $7.1 million that included Bose after a Series A that closed earlier this year. Pison is developing neurotechnology that captures the neuromuscular signals on the surface of the skin, which are analyzed using its proprietary machine learning algorithms to control electronics. The idea is for the wearable technology to predict the intention of the user, rather than the user’s body having to actually act out the motion. Pison’s first target are patients with ALS. The goal is to provide them with a way to access the digital world using mind control.
Neurotechnology Companies for Virtual Reality and Gaming
MindPortal, a San Francisco-based company founded in 2019, brought in $5 million following a recent Seed round that included everyone’s favorite tech accelerator, Y Combinator. MindPortal is building a non-invasive wearable brain-computer interface where users connect with virtual reality and simulations, as well as communicate with each other using thoughts. Imagine shooting goons in Call of Duty with just your mind and 14-year-old gamers instantly telling you how much you suck telepathically after pulling off a headshot. We’re talking serious gameplay here. And much like other VR applications, more adult activities will probably become its most lucrative niche. The device looks like something Geordi La Forge might wear:
MindPortal’s technology uses a patent-pending wearable that can record human brain activity with 10 to 100 times more precision than EEG technology. We’re not really sure what that means in practical terms, but it sounds impressive.
Israel-headquartered Wearable Devices was founded in 2014 to develop a brain-computer interface using a wristband called Mudra. It has raised a total of $3.5 million after bringing in $1.5 million through a Convertible Note that closed in 2019. The wristband picks up on a set of six hand gestures originating from the nervous system through the wrist. Deep-learning algorithms translate electronic signals and classify them as a user-intended gesture. Each gesture defines and transmits a unique interaction with the device. There is a version specifically for Apple Watch users.
The company is focusing its attention on applications in the augmented reality and gaming industries. Time to take Wii Sports to the next level.
San Francisco-based Arctop was founded in 2016 and has brought in $5 million from a Seed round of $4 million that closed in 2019. The startup is developing software to decode brain signals and is providing its product as a software-as-a–service (SaaS). The AI software converts feelings and attention into real-time responses, and is designed to interface with headphones, AR/VR systems, and earbuds for gaming, e-learning, digital health, and video/audio streaming.
Neurotechnology Company for Cyborgs
Between human-like robots and realistic Japanese “waifu” simulators, the Land of the Rising Sun has always been at the forefront of technology. Tokyo-based MELTIN MMI is taking brain-computer interface to the next level with a focus on biosensors and robotic arms. Founded in 2013, the company has raised $20.6 million after $18.3 million was brought in 2018 from an investment led by Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma, one of the major pharmaceutical companies in Japan.
The company’s technology relies on taking in bio-signals and converting them into highly sensitive robotic movements with a total of 12 types of complex movements. MELTIN MMI has developed a cyborg hand that can interpret signals and do such complex tasks such as holding an egg (without cracking it), picking up a laptop, and unscrewing a bottle cap from a bottle. Response time between the operator and the robotic hand is 0.02 seconds. The company has even been able to operate the robot more than 11,000 miles away. No Zoom-like lag here.
Neurotechnology Companies for Productivity
Founded in 2017, Maryland-based MindX has raised $1.9 million after a $1.75 million Seed round that closed in January 2020. The company is building a look-and-think interface that allows users to control digital objects spatially on displays. Its core technology was developed out of a $200 million DARPA-funded research program at John Hopkins University. Not much is known about the company as it just came out of stealth mode in 2019.
Founded in 2018, Brooklyn-based Neurosity has brought in $175k following a Seed round to design headwear that teaches programmers to concentrate for long periods of time. The technology is called the Crown, which looks a lot like sleek headphones for your brain. The device is meant to guide users into the flow state as a productivity hack. Other uses for the technology include monitoring mental illness and preventing road-side fatigue. Red Bull not required.
The next digital revolution will be played on fully immersive virtual landscapes hooked up to your brain and interfaced with reality. And the next unicorn might just be the one that discovers how to create advertising space in these hybrid worlds. Maybe one day we’ll be able to build entire robotic manufacturing empires using just our minds, while sippin’ pineapple coladas on the beach. A true digital nomad’s dream.