Founded in 2016, Neuralink has been making waves of progress as it recently announced plans to expand their work to Austin, Texas. Neuralink is another one of Musk’s highly challenged visions that would allow individuals to send their neuroelectric activity to cloud servers or electronic devices, using a brain-chip interface. Implanted on the human brain, Neuralink has the ability to control digital devices with just a thought.
Though this sounds like all fun and games, brain-chip implantation is no walk in the park due to the high complexity of the human brain. Alongside “neuro lace”, Musk and his team are confident they can develop cutting edge technology capable of a successful implantation procedure. Musk’s vision comes with great reward; however, and he hopes the chip can be used to treat chronic conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and spinal cord injuries. As well as aid to a physically disabled being by allowing them to control their devices with their mind.
During a webcast presentation for Neuralink, a pig named Gertrude with a brain-chip implanted was linked to a computer screen that recorded the brain activity and data in real time. As she moved through her pen, snacking on food, the display screen showed ebbs and flows of activity in linear formats. When Gertrude would touch her food, the signal would spike, etc,. Though the implantation is showing positive potential for Gertrude and providing activity feedback, it is imperative to keep in mind that researchers and developments are a long way from being able to decode and interpret the brain signals. As previously mentioned, the complexity of the brain makes this no easy task. During the event, Musk avoided all talks of timelines and detailed information on just when Neuralink would be ready for human testing.
Industrial design firm Woke Studio in Vancouver, British Columbia, designed a surgical ‘sewing machine’ robot to perform brain-chip implantation. This futuristic prototype is designed to seamlessly perform the surgical procedure — and with precision, will carve out a small piece of bone and insert the device with electrodes into an individual’s brain. The robot is designed to deliberately avoid blood vessels and can complete the procedure within only a few hours. A coin-sized chip is inserted under the hair, tucked behind the ear, and goes fashionably unnoticed. Containing over 3,000 electrodes to monitor the activity of thousands of neurons.
Fears of Erosion Raise Question
The ‘sewing machine’ robot prototype is designed to insert and remove the Neuralink without injury. But fears of erosion have merged to surface due to the corrosive environment of the brain. Designers will need to first address these concerns to understand the longevity of the device; to avoid the possibility of continual upkeep. The brain fights off invaders by activating protective cells called glia. Designers will need to perfect the material to avoid corrosion and find ways to resist the possibilities of the brain breaking down the electrodes once glia is present.
Neuralink Recruitment and Funding
With Neuralink being just four years old, the company has raised approximately $158 million through two funding sources. And Musk supports $100 million of that. The company is currently based in San Francisco with 100 employees and has decided to expand in Austin, a currently growing tech hub city. Neuralink is led by Elon Musk and Max Hodak, who serves as co-founder and President of the neurotechnology company. Before Musk was able to acquire Hodak, Hodak graduated from Duke University with a biomedical engineering degree and founded a company of his own, Transcriptic. Transcriptic focused on creating robotic cloud laboratories for biology research.
With the expansion of Neuralink in Austin, Texas, Neuralink has gone through great lengths to grow the team with top scientists and engineers. The decision of expansion comes after Musk decided to open Tesla’s newest gigafactory. The expansion comes with the vision of roughly 10,000 employees — ranging from electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, software developers, neuroengineers, and operations specialists.
Neuralink is not new to the brain-chip evolution; though the company has past research and lab experiments to build upon to expand their efforts. Scientists have been exploring miniature brain implant devices outside the brain such as robotic arms or computer cursors. When Neuralink is ready to begin experimentation, they hope to begin the testing on paralyzed individuals to see if this technology could enable them to operate a computer cursor with only their minds.
With hopes of a successful experimental phase, Musk envisions Neuralink being affordable and reliable for the masses to obtain the device. If Musk’s successes with SpaceX and Tesla provide any indication for this growing neurotechnology company, Neuralink has great potential to be another successful build for the tech giant. It may just be farther on the timeline than anticipated.