Brain computer interfaces (BCIs) appear ever closer to new clinical trials of in-human implantation with a recent joining of forces; Blackrock Neurotech has partnered with Phantom Neuro to develop a muscle sensory implant. Blackrock is a leader in BCI development, specializing in precision electrode technology for biocompatible implantable sensors, and Blackrock has experience shepherding products along the road to FDA clearance. Phantom brings emerging muscle mapping technology and expertise in robotic orthopedics to the union.
The partnership will focus on prosthetics and exoskeletons designed for patients with paralysis and amputations, building on the foundation laid by Phantom Neuro’s Phantom X system. Employing AI and enabling software, Phantom X gives patients close to real-time precision control of assistive devices, made possible through flexible sensors implanted under the skin of injured limbs or amputation stumps. As muscles contract in these areas with a patient’s intended movement, sensors detect the bio-signals and relay them to a robotic mechanism. The result is a high level of control of assisted devices that closely approximates the movement of human limbs.
While Phantom Neuro is relatively new to the scene — the startup was founded in 2020 — Blackrock Neurotech has been at the forefront of BCI technology since 2008, and is backed by notable investors Christian Angermayer (Apeiron Investment Group) and Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and early investor in Facebook. Currently, 31 of the 35 human patients around the world are using BCI implants that employ Blackrock technology. This includes one chronic implant that has been in use for over seven years.
Blackrock co-founder Florian Solzbacher says, “The nature of our two approaches, Blackrock with the brain and Phantom with the neuromuscular system, covers the whole spectrum of individuals with function-limiting neurological and orthopedic injuries.” Phantom Neuro CEO Dr. Connor Glass adds, “Our technology will offer patients control of advanced prosthetics and exoskeletons in much the same way they control an intact limb. This can restore their quality of life to a degree that is currently not possible with existing solutions.”
In a related move, Blackrock recently acquired MindX, a spatial computing software firm that specializes in brain-computer interfaces for applications in electronics and assistive medical devices. MindX’s neuro-computing “look-and-think” technology uses bio-data in combination with augmented reality and artificial intelligence to help people with paralysis and neurological disorders interact with their physical environments. MindX tech offers computer-aided ability to recognize objects in physical space. That acquisition followed Blackrock’s neural decoder licensing agreements with Columbia University and Stanford University.