Neuralink’s brain chip delays may have forced Elon Musk to look for help

Musk seems frustrated with the delays in Neuralink's progress.
Ameya Paleja
Elon Musk
Elon Musk is reportedly considering working with Neuralink's competitor

Wikimedia Commons 

Elon Musk, the world's richest person has reached out to a competitor Synchron Inc. about a potential investment after his own biotech company Neuralink has lagged in developing an implantable brain chip, Reuters reported earlier this week.

Launched in 2016, Neuralink was co-founded by Musk to develop implantable brain-chip interfaces to connect humans and computers. Like his ambitious projections about his electric vehicles, Musk had ambitiously claimed in 2019 that Neuralink was aiming for its product to receive regulatory approval by the end of 2020.

Later in 2021, when the company had not even begun human trials, Musk claimed at a Wall Street Journal conference that he expected them to begin by 2022, but the company has failed to get the regulatory nod to do so, even at the time of writing this. Contrastingly, a startup, Synchron, received the necessary approvals last year.

Synchron, the startup that beat Neuralink

Brooklyn, New York-based Synchron was also founded in 2016 and has a relatively smaller team of 60 people, while Neuralink has 300, Reuters reported. The startup is also working on relatively modest budgets as it has raised only about $65 million as opposed to the $363 million Musk-backed Neuralink has done so far.

When ready, the startup's brain chip will not need to be surgically implanted inside the brain, making it much superior and easy to use than Neuralink's device. Last month, the startup began its human trials in the U.S., while it has successfully used its device on four patients in Australia.

Elon Musk allegedly reached out to Synchron's founder and chief executive, Thomas Oxley, recently to discuss a potential deal. It is not clear whether the transaction would result in a collaboration or tie-up between the two companies. Sources, on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters that Synchron has not decided whether it would accept the investment, and there is no certainty on the deal going through.

Problems that ail Neuralink

Earlier this year, an animal-rights group filed a complaint that Neuralink was subjecting its test monkeys to cruelty after 15 of its 23 monkeys died. In its response, Neuralink said that it had to euthanize some monkeys after complications such as device failure or infections post surgery, and it subsequently improved its device design and surgical protocols.

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Apart from the regulators, even the company's own founders seem to lack faith in the work the company's work. Musk was among eight other investors who had invested money to launch Neuralink in 2016. Six years later, only two, including Musk, remain. Max Hodak, who was one of the investors and also held the position of President at the company, left Neuralink last year to invest in Synchron earlier this year.

The slow progress has frustrated Musk enough to reportedly seek greener pastures with his money and in a bid to realize his vision of a brain-computer interface. However, after the report surfaced, Musk also tweeted that there'll be an update on Neuralink's progress in October.

Going by Musk's previous promises on Neuralink and other companies, it would be too naive to put too much faith in this tweet. With the Twitter saga, we also know that Musk can move quickly to acquire or invest in something he sets his eye on. Whether it works out in his favor, remains to be seen.

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