The brain-computer interface (BCI) market has boomed in recent years, and scientists aren’t the only ones who have noticed. In 2017, the global BCI market was valued at $696 million USD and that number is expected to climb to $1.84 billion by 2023.1 As everyone from Mark Zuckerberg to Elon Musk converges on this budding industry we anticipate the technological advances and profits will be exponential.
The appeal of BCI technology for investors
The growth of the BCI market can be attributed to a variety of factors. First, BCI technology has value in numerous industries such as education, entertainment, gaming, research, and healthcare. The diverse applicability of BCI makes it an attractive candidate for investors. Industry forecasts indicate the most prevalent use for BCI will be in the healthcare domain.12 BCI technology is being adopted globally as incidents leading to paralysis or “locked-in” syndrome have increased. Furthermore, as the geriatric patient population continues to grow, clinicians and researchers are seeking novel therapeutic options. For the growing number of patients with brain disorders, BCI technology could be the solution to maintain aspects of independence. Investing in BCI also holds appeal for tech entrepreneurs who often face criticism for backing frivolous ventures. By directing funds and effort towards BCI technology, investors are making a financial commitment to improving the quality of life for patients across a variety of disorders.3 While there are some factors which will hinder progress in the BCI domain, including ethical and security concerns, it is already clear this booming industry will bring large profits. Below we have outlined some of the biggest players in the BCI market and their funding processes.
|Factors Influencing The BCI Market|
(Source: table contents derived from https://www.alliedmarketresearch.com/brain-computer-interfaces-market)
The Lausanne, Switzerland-based company has been a pioneer in the neurotechnology industry. Founded in 2012, MindMaze has developed a neurorehabilitation platform for stroke patients using virtual reality and proprietary 3D motion-tracking technology.4 The MindMotion Pro and MindMotion Go are bedside and at-home systems respectively; patient movements are mapped onto 3D avatars as they perform customized interactive exercises founded on principles of neurorehabilitation. These platforms allow for early and continued intervention to accelerate the recovery of motor function in the upper limbs. The training can also be modified based on patient performance.5
More recently, MindMaze has sought to expand its VR/AR/motion-tracking platform into the gaming industry using brain-computer interfacing. The MindLeap headset includes dry electrodes, which sense brainwaves and muscle activity, as well as the signature MindMaze motion capture camera. MindLeap seeks to reduce VR latency and create a more immersive experience for users by incorporating multiple recording measures to produce a predictive system that requires fewer configurations compared to typical BCI models.6 While this system is still in its infancy, MindMaze has made great strides in acquiring investors to support its growth.
Since it’s inception, MindMaze has gone through three public funding rounds and has obtained $108.5 million in investments. The latest funding round occurred in February 2016, following the announcement of MindLeap, when the Hinduja Group invested $100 million at a pre-money valuation of $1 billion.7 The London-based organization is family-owned and has a diverse portfolio of investments in fields ranging from automotive, oil, gas, media, and healthcare.8 In addition to gaining investors, MindMaze acquired Gait Up in 2017.7 Gait Up is another Lausanne-based company, which specializes in motion analysis. MindMaze founder and CEO, Tej Tadi, has indicated the Gait Up system will be used to further enhance the VR gamer experience in MindMaze platforms.9
For more information on MindLeap: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NoXhfHFeyPE&t=88s
While still very much in its infancy, it is hard to talk about BCI technologies without mentioning Elon Musk’s highly anticipated Neuralink. Since it’s foundation in the summer of 2016, Neuralink has been shrouded in secrecy. The website simply describes the technology as “ultra high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers.” The website also includes a list of engineering job postings.10
Thankfully, interviews with Musk have provided more detail. At the 2016 Code Conference, Musk spoke of his apprehension regarding AI and the need for humans to keep pace with AI intelligence in the future. To achieve this, Neuralink is developing a “neural lace” which will connect the human brain to computers remotely without the typical obstacle of bandwidth concerns. While Musk did not go into specifics, he mused about the possibility of injecting the neural lace through the blood system to reach the brain. Musk describes this system as a “digital extension” of the individual allowing for a more “symbiotic relationship with computers.”11 Neuralink has also been proposed as a potential therapeutic system for patients with conditions such as epilepsy or mood disorders.9
Neuralink’s funding status is still in the early stage venture phase. Thus far, the company has raised $27 million, although Musk has remained tight-lipped about the investors and has indicated they will not seek further funding at this time.12 Only time will tell where the entrepreneurial genius will take his latest venture and how he will balance Neuralink alongside SpaceX, Tesla, Inc., and his other endeavors.
Founded in 2015 in Massachusetts, BrainCo hopes to revolutionize education and at-home convenience.13 The team out of Harvard University’s Center for Brain Science and the Graduate School of Education has developed two headsets, which use EEG information to inform learning and allow for direct interaction with technology.
The first product, referred to as the Focus suite, involves EEG headsets, which analyze brain signals and infer attention levels based on algorithms developed at NASA.14 Participants are given an attention level rating that can be used by teachers and parents to gauge how well a student is engaging with learning material. The in-class version, Focus Edu, includes a dashboard for teachers to assess student attention levels in real-time to modify lessons as needed. Furthermore, the company is hoping to get FDA approval to use the Focus system as a therapeutic device for patients with ADHD. BrainCo bases this on meta-analyses, which suggest neurofeedback training is a potential treatment for ADHD15 While there are some concerns regarding the ethics of recording student brain activity as well as the efficacy of the ADHD treatment, BrainCo recently launched a pilot deal which may help address these questions.15 In a recent distribution deal with China, 20 000 Focus Edu units will be manufactured and tested on a Chinese student population to gauge the effectiveness of the headset in classrooms.13
In addition to the Focus devices, BrainCo has also introduced the Lucy system. Another EEG-based headset, Lucy uses brain activity to interact with technology and allows the user to control toys, robotics, and smart home applications.16 Currently available for pre-order, Lucy may be the next step in at-home comfort.
BrainCo is presently in the seed funding stage; after going through three funding rounds the company accumulated $6 million between 2015-2016.17 Located in Massachusetts, the company has received lots of support from Harvard and Boston-based organizations like the Mass Challenge incubator. In the latest funding round, BrainCo received $5.5 million from three investors: Boston Angel Club, Wandai Capital, and Han Tan Capital.17
The future is coming, and it is bringing big profits with it.
This was only a shortlist of the many novel and exciting technologies coming our way. While these companies are still in the process of developing and manufacturing true BCI devices that can modulate technology through brain activity, it is clear financing the future of BCI will bring profound opportunity and profits for investors.