Gates, Bezos-Backed BCI Startup Is Testing Mind-Reading Tech On Humans

In the emerging brain-computer interface (BCI) industry, the loudest name may be Elon Musk’s Neuralink, but the leader of the race so far is Synchron, the Brooklyn-based BCI startup that was recently backed by two of the tech industry’s biggest titans, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

Their technology aims to transform the daily life of people with paralysis, by allowing them to control technology, particularly smart home devices with their minds. 

Synchron’s BCI device, called Stentrode, was awarded the Breakthrough Device designation by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2020. Unlike Neuralink’s highly invasive chip that requires a portion of the skull to be carved out to be installed, the Stentrode is inserted into the body through blood vessels, which CEO Tom Oxley calls the “natural highways” into the brain.

The Stentrode™ Endovascular Electrode Array | Via Synchron

The device is a fully-implantable stent-electrode (hence the name) fitted with tiny sensors. It’s implanted next to the brain’s motor cortex using bloodstream-enabled procedures commonly used for neurovascular stent implantation, meaning without the need for open brain surgery. 

A wireless antenna is also implanted in the chest to transmit neural data from the device to Synchron’s revolutionary brain-controlled handsfree app platform called brainOS, which translates brain activity into “a standardized digital language, directly through thought, to control apps that restore communication and limb function.”

Peter Yoo, the company’s senior director of neuroscience, explains that because the implant isn’t directly attached to the brain tissue, the signal quality isn’t perfect. But Yoo also pointed out that the brain doesn’t like being touched by foreign objects, and emphasized that it’s the tech’s minimally-invasive procedure that allows it to be more accessible and scalable.

Whereas Neuralink has struggled to obtain approval from the FDA to begin human trials for its BCI implant, Synchron received an Investigational Device Exemption in 2021. According to a CNBC report, six patients will be implanted with the BCI during the study.

In December 2021, one of Synchron’s patients, Philip O’Keefe, became the first person in the world to tweet using a BCI. The device was implanted 20 months earlier. “hello, world! Short tweet. Monumental progress,” O’Keefe said on CEO Oxley’s Twitter account.

The following year, Synchron announced a $75 million Series C financing round led by ARCH Venture Partners that included funding from the investment firms of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. 

Musk, frustrated by the slow progress at Neuralink, reportedly approached the company earlier last year about a potential investment. Synchron declined to confirm or comment on the report.

Information for this briefing was found via Synchron, CNBC, Forbes, Reuters, and the sources and companies mentioned. The author has no securities or affiliations related to the organizations discussed. Not a recommendation to buy or sell. Always do additional research and consult a professional before purchasing a security. The author holds no licenses.

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