BCI Firms Jostle for Attention as Market Heats Up

by JoJo Platt, contributing editor and James Cavuoto, editor

November 2022 issue

Bolstered by renewed press and investor interest in the space, several vendors of brain-computer interface systems revealed new details about their product and technology directions earlier this month.

Neuralink founder Elon Musk assembled a team of key employees to update a mostly adoring audience on recent product enhancements on November 30. Musk said the firm would prioritize work on restoring vision with its N1 wireless cortical implant and R1 neurosurgical robot. He also highlighted the company’s goal of enabling BCI recipients to interact with their digital devices as efficiently—or more so—as healthy users. And he said the first human implantation was six months away.

Enhancements to Neuralink’s technology include more efficient charging, reduced power consumption, and miniaturization. A next-generation implant will accommodate four ASICs on the quarter-sized device for a total of 4096 channels. The implantation process will now penetrate the dura, which will reduce issues related to encapsulation, even if it confounds imaging somewhat. And the company will offer a version of the implant that will activate the spinal cord, in a future effort to restore function after spinal cord injury.

Not content to rest on their laurels, and perhaps with inspiration provided by new entrants to the field, Blackrock Neurotech announced their next-generation BCI at the Neuroscience 2022 meeting earlier this month in San Diego, CA. Until now, Blackrock has focused on providing solutions for people with SCI, ALS, and other movement disorders. In order to address conditions like blindness, memory restoration, and neuropsychiatric disorders, the technology needs to cover a lot more ground, specifically, more neurons. Enter Neuralace. With over 10,000 channels, compared to the 1024 channels of the Utah Array, the flexible eyelash-thin chip will dramatically and exponentially boost the system’s capacity.

The honeycomb perforations in the lace-like device are what allow the unit to be flexible. Flexibility is a big bonus for other electrodes like Neurosoft Bioelectronics’ soft electrode that debuted earlier this year. Access to the sulci—which account for two-thirds of the brain’s surface area—is a significant advantage for researchers. It, could allow for significant scientific discoveries and understanding into disease like Alzheimer’s, biological ageing, brain atrophy, and more. Blackrock engineers also hope to demonstrate that the form factor of Neuralace will offer improved biocompatibility as the design will not impede the flow of fluids and other biomolecules that may trigger the body’s foreign body response. Blackrock is planning for distribution of Neuralace to the research community by 2024 and ultimately hopes to make its commercial system, MoveAgain, available.

And while Musk highlighted Neuralink’s potential offering in visual neuroprosthetics, his former colleague Max Hodak revealed details about his startup, Science Corp., which will operate in the same space. Their flagship product, Science Eye, will use optogenetic therapy in retinal ganglion cells in the optic nerve. The device will include a high-resolution microLED film directly over the retina that moves with the eye.


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