Bloomberg Businessweek May 31, 2020 pp18-19 Technology “Mind Over Body, Helmet Over Mind”. “A secretive startup backed by $54 million says its devices will transform neuroscience”
The Bottomline “Tech companies are pouring money into learning how the mind works. A startup called Kernel hopes its sensor-covered helmet with help bring brain data to the masses”.
Currently, tools that are available to study brain function are large, expensive costing up to $1M and need expert technicians to carryout evaluations. This limits the size of studies. Kernel, founded in 2016 by Bryan Johnson with $54M of his own money (PayPal, Venmo), has been developing software and hardware for low-cost helmets that are placed on the head of the individual to facilitate measuring electromagnetic activity (called Flux) and to pulse the brain with light to measure blood movement (called Flow). “Johnson estimates that the first devices will cost several thousand dollars each to manufacture…” but hopes eventually “be in line with high-end, mass market consumer electronic products”. Even at thousands of dollars the device would allow larger studies. According to Kernel, “for the first time a pair of devices [Flux and Flow] basically helmets-that can see and record brain activity, enabling scientists to more easily analyze neurons as they fire and reveal more about how the mind works”.
The hopes for the device include medical and strictly commercial applications. There are hopes “that people who’ve suffered from paralysis and strokes could use Kernel’s devices to communicate just by thinking of words”. Patients “suffering paranoia or anxiety may get access to brand new therapies”. Others are interested in studying how the brain reacts to input from music to political speeches etc. So far, some attest to being able to identify what song of a batch a subject is listening to.
The rollout this year will let researchers use an in-house service called Neuroscience for their initial studies. “Kernel will work with customer to set up studies, reviewed by an outside ethics committee, and then recruit paid volunteers, analyze their brains at its office and send back the results”.
For more on Kernel, Neurosciences see