Elon Musk said on Wednesday he expects a wireless brain chip built by his company Neuralink to start human clinical trials in six months, after the company failed to meet earlier deadlines set by him.
The company is creating brain chip interfaces that it says could enable disabled patients to move and communicate again, with Musk adding on Wednesday it will also aim at restoring vision.
Based in the Austin, Texas and San Francisco Bay Area, Neuralink has in recent years been carrying out tests on animals as it seeks approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to start clinical trials in people.
“We want to be extremely careful and certain that it will work well before putting a device into a human,” Musk said during a much-anticipated public update on the device.
Addressing a crowd of hand-picked invitees in a presentation at Neuralink headquarters that lasted almost three hours, Musk highlighted the speed at which the company is building its device.
“The progress at first, particularly as it applies to humans, will seem perhaps agonizingly slow, but we are doing all of the things to bring it to scale in parallel,” he added. “So, in theory, progress should be exponential.”
The FDA said it could not comment on the status or the existence of any potential product applications.
The first two human applications focused on by the Neuralink device will be in restoring vision and facilitating the movement of muscles in people who cannot do so, Musk said. He added:
“Even if someone has never had vision, ever, like they were born blind, we believe we can still restore vision.”
The event was initially planned for Oct. 31 but Musk pushed it back just days before without providing a reason. Neuralink’s previous public presentation, over a year ago, involved a monkey with a brain chip that played a computer game by thinking alone.
Musk, who also runs rocket firm SpaceX, electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla (TSLA.O), and social media platform Twitter, is popular for ambitious goals such as colonizing Mars and saving humanity. His plans for Neuralink, which he initiated in 2016, are of the same grand scale.
He wants to build a chip that would enable the brain to control complex electronic devices and ultimately enable people with paralysis to recover motor function and treat brain diseases such as dementia, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. He also talks of combining the brain with artificial intelligence.
Neuralink, however, is running behind set timelines. Musk said in a 2019 presentation he was planning to obtain regulatory approval by the end of 2020. He then said at a conference late last year that he hoped to begin human trials in 2022.Buy Crypto Now
Neuralink has constantly failed to meet internal deadlines to acquire FDA approval to begin human trials, current and former employees have said. Musk reached out to rival Synchron earlier in 2022 about a potential investment after he voiced frustration to Neuralink staff about their slow progress, Reuters reported in August.
Synchron achieved an important milestone in July by implanting its device in a patient in the United States for the first time. It gained U.S. regulatory approval for human trials last year and has concluded studies on four people in Australia.