This Amazon-Backed Neuralink Rival Is Taking a Different Path to BCI Adoption

Where Elon Musk’s Neuralink looks far ahead, Andreas Forsland’s Cognixion aims to help more people sooner.

Cognixion
Cognixion offers two non-invasive BCI headsets that integrate into the company’s own computer platform. Cognixion

Brain-computer interface (BCI) company Cognixion is a direct rival of Elon Musk’s Neuralink. Both are working to transform intent into action for disabled individuals. But the two companies are on different trajectories, according to Cognixion founder and CEO Andreas Forsland. While Musk’s Neuralink looks far ahead with implantable chips requiring surgery, Cognixion aims to help more people, sooner, with non-invasive alternatives.

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“Neuralink is an interesting technology, but it requires surgery, and most people are not going to volunteer for that,” Forsland told Observer. Only extreme use cases with high-needs neurological conditions, he added, would require it, and “any neurologist, if you don’t need an implant, they’re not going to prescribe one.”

On the contrary, Cognixion offers non-invasive BCI headsets that integrate into its own computer platform. Cognixion offers two non-invasive headsets equipped with augmented reality displays, Cognixion ONE and Axon-R, the latter of which was released at the recent AI for Good Global Summit in Geneva last month and is a derivative product of Cognixion ONE, which is already available for researchers to use in spaces like therapeutics, diagnostics and prosthetics.

“Our system can unlock a whole variety of use cases, most of which are in healthcare, immediately,” Forsland said. Those use cases include unlocking speech through a speaker and a mirrored screen, accessing apps to control home automation and entertainment and, for the clinical-minded Axon-R, tracking physiological data. For example, a paralyzed person could wear Cognixion to perform basic functions like speaking.

Neuralink’s market “is actually quite small.”

Forsland recognized that Neuralink is well funded (it’s backed by Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund and carries the recognition that any of Musk’s ventures do, contributing to its $5 billion private-market valuation.) but he said Neuralink’s market “is actually quite small.” Neuralink’s long-term goals include not only bypassing communication and mobility blocks, but also treating mental health and cognitive conditions and navigating complex tasks, from video gaming to creative tasks.

Cognixion started working on BCI in 2015, around the same time as Neuralink. “They focus much more on technology investment. We focus much more on patient advocacy,” Forsland said. “There are strengths and weaknesses of invasive versus non-invasive, but most people aren’t looking for the perfect technical solution. They’re looking for the thing that is the least risky, that does the job.”

Cognixion has already attracted investment from Amazon. The terms include integrating Amazon Alexa technology into Cognixion devices, enabling patients to have full smart home controls. More partnerships are coming with companies “in the hundreds of billions or trillion dollar marketing cap” space, Forsland said. On the clinical side, Axon-R is already starting to work with notable organizations like Johns Hopkins, Mass General, Northwell Health, Memorial Hermann Health System and the Veterans Health Administration.

Forsland said Cognixion is targeting a level of BCI that’s more like a low-resolution monitor display versus Neuralink’s high-definition alternative. However, “if you think about a future where people are using their brain, especially people with disabilities, our technology can scale to millions of people within years, not decades,” Forsland said.

The potential for consumer BCI is huge

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 1.3 billion people, or 1 in 6 individuals globally, experience “significant disability.” The number of people living disabled is on the rise because of more occurrences of noncommunicable diseases as well as people living longer in general. Within his lifespan, Forsland wants to help 100 million people who have issues with speech and mobility. “I think it’s possible,” he said. Already, hundreds of people with a variety of disabilities (like cerebral palsy, stroke and traumatic brain injury) are using the technology, he said. 

Last year, Cognixion received the designation of FDA Breakthrough Device to fast-track its approval process. Despite the regulatory dance, its products are already in clinical and laboratory use, and the company aims to become the first fully FDA-cleared BCI device.

Other non-invasive BCI devices on the market include the Snap-acquired Nextmind and Meta’s VR headsets, neither of which are focused on healthcare. On the invasive side, Synchron is working towards human clinical trials with its solution that implants into brain blood vessels, and Brown University’s BrainGate has compiled safety data from a long-researched feasibility study.

Comparatively, Neuralink conducted its first-in-human implantation in January on a paralyzed individual. The progress is slow because it’s risky (infection and rejection are the biggest risks of the surgical procedure), but the potential is enormous. Forsland knows this—and he knows there will be checks and balances along the way. “The fact is, most of these technologies are going to be regulated in some way, either through a healthcare body or through an educational body,” he said.

But as Cognixion rolls out, the impact is rolling out along with it, not just with the individuals using the technology, but also their caregivers. “Our system can enable individuals to be more independent of communication, smart home controls, mobility controls, where it reframes the role of the caregiver to a true companion versus somebody who just needs to suction a tracheostomy or turn on off the lights or change TV channels,” Forsland said. “It cascades out, that ripple effect, by giving more real independence.”

This Amazon-Backed Neuralink Rival Is Taking a Different Path to BCI Adoption