Elon Musk’s brain-computer interface start-up raises $205m

30 Jul 2021

Image: © Sergey Novikov/Stock.adobe.com

Neuralink has secured a Series C round from Google Ventures and others, while rival Synchron is preparing in-human trials in the US.

Neuralink raised $205m in funding led by Dubai-based investment firm Vy Capital.

A group of individual investors also contributed to the Series C funding round, including former Y Combinator president Sam Altman, Coinbase co-founder Fred Ehrsam, and PayPal co-founder Ken Howery.

Neuralink was co-founded by another of PayPal’s co-founders, Elon Musk, in 2016. The serial tech entrepreneur has himself invested in the company.

GV, previously known as Google Ventures, also participated in the round along with returning investor Craft Ventures, Howery co-founded Founders Fund and others.

Based in San Francisco, Neuralink is working on a brain-computer interface intended for therapeutic use. One of its chief goals is to assist people with paralysis in interacting with devices such as computers and phones in a more naturalistic way. To do this, the start-up is developing wireless computer chips to be implanted in the human brain.

An emerging technology, brain-computer interfaces may also have applications for people with brain injuries or neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s or dementia.

A loftier goal purported by Musk is that Neuralink devices will enable people to achieve “superhuman cognition” – an achievement that would alleviate Musk’s own fears around AI superiority.

Neuralink’s first product, the N1 Link device, is an implant that transmits data via a wireless connection. This Series C funding will be used to bring the N1 to market and accelerate R&D of future products.

Latest brain-computer interface developments

At a live event last year, Musk revealed that Neuralink had successfully implanted a coin-sized computer chip into a pig.

This year, the company demonstrated a monkey playing the classic video game Pong with its mind via two N1 Link chips embedded in its brain.

While Neuralink has secured breakthrough device designation from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a rival company has taken its brain-computer interface development one step further.

Just this week, the FDA approved an early feasibility study involving human test subjects for New York start-up Synchron.

These clinical trials are an essential step in proving these brain-computer implants are safe for humans and getting a product to market in the US.

Synchron, which has R&D facilities in Melbourne, is already conducting a clinical trial with its Stentrode device in Australia. Four patients have received the implant and data on two subjects was published in the Journal of NeuroInterventional Surgery in October 2020. This study demonstrated that these patients were successfully able to text, type and shop online using only their mind.

“Synchron’s north star is to achieve whole-brain data transfer,” said CEO Thomas Oxley following the FDA announcement this week.

Six patients are expected to participate in Syncrhon’s US trial, which is scheduled to open for enrolment later this year.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.