Neurable, Vectorform Partner on Brain-Computer Interface Applications
Neurable, a brain-computer interface (BCI) startup spun out of the University of Michigan and now based in Boston, has found a new partner in a familiar place.
Vectorform, headquartered in Royal Oak, MI, is a software development and digital design firm that is collaborating with Neurable on BCI products for its clients in the automotive, utility, home automation, and healthcare sectors. No money is changing hands as part of the arrangement, both companies confirm.
Ashley Howell, Vectorform’s associate experience director, says the partnership “evolved from a general interest in measuring brain signals in an immersive space, and grew from there.”
In a 2017 Xconomy interview, Neurable CEO Ramses Alcaide said his company’s BCI technology allows users to control software and devices with their thoughts. The company’s neurotechnology platform does this, he explained, by classifying brain signals and then combining algorithms and neurological insights to discern user intent in real time. Today, Alcaide says Neurable is the first BCI platform to detect what users are focused on and can trigger an interaction depending on where the user’s attention is.
Over the past year, Neurable has expanded its signal-processing capabilities; Alcaide says the company now incorporates “enabling software” that can be used with any brain signal. “That has opened a lot of opportunities,” he adds. However, Neurable’s ultimate goal is to realize the functionality and promise of BCI technology by developing it for real-world applications. “Being able to deliver beyond the hype has always been the biggest BCI challenge,” Alcaide says.
The company, which launched in 2015, now has 16 people working in its downtown Boston office. He declined to say whether Neurable has raised new investment capital in the past two years, but says the company is “doing well financially.”
As part of its partnership with Vectorform, Neurable will give the company access to its software development kit for use in creating pilot tests. As far as potential BCI projects go, Vectorform would like to explore mixed-reality job training, automotive uses that could reduce distracted driving by allowing drivers to use thoughts or glances to interact with their vehicles, and healthcare applications in which people with physical challenges could complete tasks using their brain waves.
Vectorform intends to initially use Neurable’s technology to create virtual “high consequence” workplace training modules for jobs in which real-world training might be too difficult or dangerous, Howell says. Southeast Michigan utility company DTE, one of Vectorform’s customers, will take part in the workplace training pilot project.
“How do we really gauge learning?” Howell asks. “We’re trying to see how Neurable’s brain-computer interface application shows effectiveness.”
Howell says Vectorform is developing a dashboard that shows how trainees are performing as well as how they’re improving over time. Vectorform is examining the “emotional layer” in the brain that appears when we feel confident about the tasks we perform, she explains, and how that emotional layer corresponds to learning.
“There are a lot of potential applications,” Howell says. “We’re looking forward to seeing where Neurable goes. We’re in the beginning stages [of the partnership], and it’s just going to continue to evolve.”