All That Actually Matters Neuralink Just Announced

The most widely tested brain implant is the Utah array, a rigid silicon square with 100 small protruding needles. The needles, each about a millimeter long, have electrodes on their ends that capture brain signals. However, these rigid devices can cause scarring in nearby tissue that can affect their ability to record over time. In contrast, one of Neuralink’s innovations is flexible threads that attach to his implant and are dotted with over 1,000 electrodes.

Neuralink is also working to improve existing BCIs that require cumbersome setups and invasive brain surgery; instead, the company’s sewing machine-like robot could insert electrodes into the brain through a small hole in the skull. Also, the device transmits brain signals wirelessly, unlike most current BCIs, which rely on external cables that connect to a computer from the top of a person’s head.

Neuralink is testing its prototype on pigs and monkeys, and in April 2021 the company released a video of a macaque playing the video game Pong hands-free thanks to two brain implants the company has placed in its brain. (This feat was already achieved 15 years ago by someone with a BCI.)

In a company update in 2020, pigs implanted with the coin-sized Neuralink device rushed to a stage so that Musk could demonstrate the safety of the implant and its ability to record neural activity from pig brains. (He described the device as “a Fitbit with little wires for the skull.”) During the demonstration, one pig had an implant in his brain, and another had an implant previously but had been previously removed. Meanwhile, brain signals from the pig were broadcast on a screen.

The company’s current quarter-sized implant contains 1,000 channels that can record and stimulate nearby neurons. But on Wednesday, Neuralink staff said they are working on a next-gen chip with 4,098 channels on a chip of the same size.

While Neuralink is the most well-known, a handful of other companies are also working on brain implants and grappling with common issues such as safety, longevity, and what the implant can do.

Two former Neuralink employees started their own BCI initiatives. Last year witnessed the launch of Science Corp, headed by former Neuralink president Max Hodax, and Precision Neuroscience, founded by Benjamin Rapoport, another original member of Musk’s team. In a blog post published Nov. 21 on the company’s website, Science Corp employees described a neural interface concept aimed at restoring vision in people with retinitis pigmentosa and dry age-related macular degeneration, two types of severe blindness that do not have good cures. Options. According to the blog post, the company is working to demonstrate safety data on animals.

Meanwhile, Precision Neuroscience is developing a thin, flexible brain implant for paralysis that is placed over the brain and can be inserted through a small slit in the head rather than punching a hole in the skull. According to Rapoport, the company has tested its device in pigs and hopes to receive the green light from the Food and Drug Administration to implant it in a human patient in 2023.

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