Max Khodak, who previously served as president of Elon Musk’s Neuralink, has launched his own competing startup. His new company, Science Corp. is working on a brain-computer interface that does not require any implants in the skull. Applying the development of photonics, the plan is to use light and the optic nerve of the eye as a pathway to the brain, rather than an implanted chip.
Scientists and companies have been experimenting with photonics for years in hopes of restoring patients’ vision. But attempts to create brain-machine interfaces using the optic nerve have not been successful. The Science startup hopes to succeed in this field and is engaged in the development of various devices that improve the functioning of the brain. They decided to start with a look.
The startup has raised $160 million in funding and has already created a Science Eye prosthesis that works on rabbits. In the next year or two, Science hopes to test it on humans. The device is intended for the treatment of retinitis pigmentosa (a disease that affects peripheral vision) and macular degeneration (which affects central vision with age).
Science Eye is based on a very thin LED film, 2 mm wide, which is implanted over the aged retina. The surgical procedure currently takes two hours, but Science aims to cut it in half. The LED film processes image patterns transmitted over a wireless network from glasses with built-in cameras. Such glasses capture the image and transform it into a form that can be perceived by the optic nerve.
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For the device to function, the cells of the optic nerve must become light-sensitive. Using gene therapy, Science injects an artificial protein that changes the cells of the optic nerve. By affecting individual cells rather than groups of cells, much higher resolution can be achieved than other advanced approaches to treating blindness or eye disease, Science says.
The company’s technology is expected to eventually allow simultaneous reading and writing of data in the brain. But now the researchers have focused only on the recording. Khodak recognized that practical application would require significant biological breakthroughs.
Khodak says that by improving this technology by 5 or 6 generations, it is possible to arrive at a device that will replace virtual reality glasses and headsets “with just a tiny implant in the eye.” The future goal is to create a new type of brain operating system that could, for example, project step-by-step instructions onto the eyeball or create more immersive video games.