A secretive project to develop a ‘mind reading helmet’, is reportedly ready to release their product to the market next year, with the devices set to sell at less than $5000 each. The team of scientists behind the helmet have carefully kept their research under wraps for the past four years believe the helmet has the potential to transform our understanding of the workings of the human mind.
The team consists of neuroscientists, software engineers and hardware designers and was put together by Los Angeles start-up Kernel. In four years they have managed to distil the kind of equipment usually used to monitor electrical signals and blood flow in the brain and occupies a whole room, to a scale that can be built into the helmet.
And the technology will also be affordable. Kernel think their helmet will cost less than $5000 when they bring it to market next year. That price point could make a huge difference in the amount of high-quality brain studies scientific research teams around the world would then be able to conduct. The more studies, the deeper the pool of data scientists and AI algorithms will be able to look into for precious insights into the working of our minds.
Just one of the applications it is thought the helmet will help with, as well as for pure research, is allowing patients with paralysis to communicate by thinking words and sentences. Mental states like creativity and anxiety could also be tracked in a way similar to how wearables that track health indicators record things like steps and heart rate.
Kernel CEO Bryan Johnson commented:
“We can measure pretty much anything in the known universe, from black holes to calories. The only thing we can’t measure is our brains and our minds, which is what makes us us. It’s this blind spot we have.”
The 42-year-old Mr Johnson is a veteran Silicon Valley entrepreneur who has already made a fortune from the sale of his previous start-up, a digital payments company called Braintree, to Paypal for $800 million back in 2013. Having secured his own financial future, Mr Johnson says he was determined that his next venture would be one with a positive societal impact.
After spending months and years researching opportunities, he finally decided on neuroscience as a direction. He founded Kernel in 2016 with $54 million of his own money and put together a team of 80 experts from relevant fields across neuroscience and technology.
Over the four years since, Kernel has developed two different systems to monitor important brain signals and activity. Both have been reduced to a scale that allows them to be integrated into a helmet. The first is called Flux, and monitors electromagnetic activity. The second, Flow, tracks blood movement through light pulses.
Kernel is not the only company in the space, with Facebook also researching a potential brain to machine interface and Elon Musk-backed Neuralink Corporation also working on brain reading technology.
Kernel’s first direction was to develop implants that would offer direct access to neurons, a technique considered to result in the clearest brain activity signals. However, the start-up decided up a helmet due to the small number of individuals willing to act as guinea pigs and have surgical chips implanted into their brains.
The biggest hope for the helmets is that they will allow brain activity data to be gathered on a far larger scale than has been possible until now. That could really accelerate developments in neuroscience. Allen Institute for Brain Science chief scientist Christof Koch comments:
“What is revolutionary here is not the fact that you can do it, but how quickly and inexpensively it can be done.”
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