Ghosts of Neurotech Past
In the 19 years that we’ve been publishing Neurotech Business Report, we’ve witnessed a number of changes. One of the most notable differences in the neurotech industry of today compared to the field back then is the level of invasiveness required to obtain meaningful neural signals from the brain and the neuromuscular system. As we report in our article on page 1 of this issue, steady advances in surface electrode design, as well as new minimally invasive technology for implanting electrodes in the brain and body, will undoubtedly enhance the market for both medical and consumer neurotech devices.
This trend was likely an important factor in Facebook’s recent $1 billion purchase of CTRL-labs. That company’s Myocontrol technology reminds us of an article from our very first issue of Neurotech Business Report in 2001, which profiled a San Francisco Bay Area company called BioControl Systems. That company used EMG plus accelerometer data from a wrist-worn sensor to control a computer or peripheral device. And while we’re reminiscing, it’s worth re-reading prognostications about future brain implants from this space in 2003 in light of Synchron’s first implantation of its Stentrode device. (www.neurotechreports.com/pages/publishersletterAug03.html)
Make no mistake, Facebook and Neuralink and Kernel have each lent a heavy dose of credibility and promise to the neurotech industry. But while we ponder the future applications that these well funded firms will deliver down the road, it’s important to keep in mind the early efforts of the pioneers in technologies such as BCIs and electrode design. At the upcoming Neurotech Leaders Forum in San Francisco next month, we will hear from two such pioneers, Phil Kennedy of Neural Signals, and Blackrock Microsystems co-founder Marcus Gerhardt, who will each likely lend some historical context to today’s advances in BCI technology.
At the risk of dwelling too much in the past, we’d like to rehash a sentiment expressed in this space in that very first issue in 2001, right after the dot-com crash: “During the time that many VC firms tripped all over themselves to fund the umteenth e-commerce web portal, neural engineering firms working to restore function to people with disabilities were operating on a shoestring budget. If we do our job right, we’ll let the VC community know that unlike online pet food buyers, quadriplegics will not change their mind about wanting products that help them regain use of their limbs; people with Parkinson’s disease or chronic pain will not lose interest in getting effective treatment for their conditions.”
In honor of our anniversary, we’ve put the entire first issue of this newsletter up on the web (www.neurotechreports.com/images/NBRsep01.PDF). We will continue to strive to deliver on the promises we made back then.
Editor and Publisher