Neuralink Event Reveals Neurotech Collaborations

by James Cavuoto, editor

July 2019 issue

The much-heralded public announcement from Elon Musk’s Neuralink commercial endeavor, which took place in San Francisco earlier this month, revealed many details about the company’s technology and product directions that were previously unknown. The launch event also uncovered relationships that the Bay Area firm has established with other neurotech firms and research institutions.

During the July 16 event at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, Musk described the company’s neurosurgical robotic system, which is capable of inserting hundreds or thousands of thin and flexible leads into the brain. He also described the firm’s wireless N1 chip, which performs spike detection BCI calculations. The chip measures 4 mm x 5 mm and features 1024 channels capable of recording or stimulating. It can capture 20,000 samples per second with 10 bits of resolution, resulting in a bandwidth of 200 Mbits of neural data per second for each channel. The chip consumes only 6.6 microwatts of power.

One of Neuralink’s technology partners is the Alfred Mann Foundation in Valencia, CA. AMF chairman Robert Greenberg was in attendance at the San Francisco unveiling and he confirmed that the foundation is working with Neuralink. While AMF’s decades of experience in implanted neuromodulation and neuroprosthetics devices could certainly be useful to Neuralink, that company’s ability to implant high-density microelectrodes into the cerebral cortex could be a boon for AMF spinoff company Second Sight. The visual prosthesis vendor, for whom Greenberg served as chairman and CEO until 2015, is relying heavily on its Orion cortical implant.

Another likely commercial partner is iota Biosciences, the UC Berkeley spinoff that developed the neural dust battery-free and wireless implantable microstimulators and sensors. DJ Seo, Neuralink’s director of implant systems, was a co-inventor of neural dust at UC Berkeley. Neuralink made reference to research from iota founders Jose Carmena and Michel Maharbiz, who were in attendance at the event. Also in attendance were Jaimie Henderson from Stanford University, who said he was working with Neuralink, and Leigh Hochberg from Mass General and the BrainGate consortium, who most likely is as well.

In an interview with NBR, Neuralink president Max Hodak said it was too early to assess whether the company would sell its systems to other medical device manufacturers on an OEM basis.

Hodak made a point of acknowledging previous work in brain interfaces, citing key developments like cochlear implants, DBS systems, the Utah array and NeuroPace’s responsive neurostimulator. “Neuralink didn’t come out of nowhere,” he said. “There’s a long academic heritage of research here. We’re building on the shoulders of giants.”

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