California-based neuroscience startup Kernel is getting ready to ship its $50,000 mind-reading helmet to dozens of customers across the US. Founded by online payments veteran Bryan Johnson, Kernel’s new brain-computer interface (BCI) can analyze blood flow and neurons being fired across an individual’s brain, effectively understanding what’s happening inside their head. Kernel has made what usually would require a room-sized machine into a wearable device through 5 years of research and $110 million spent. The company aims to democratize the technology by miniaturizing and commercializing it.

Kernel essentially has two types of helmets, although it is yet unclear which one goes for $50,000. The first helmet, Flow, can record real-time data, establish precise patterns of brain activity using lasers, and measure changes in blood oxygen levels. The user can then simply transfer the data to a computer using a USB-C cable. The second helmet, Flux, can measure the speed of neurons in real-time and provide access to the complex brain activity underlying functions such as arousal, emotion, attention, memory, and learning. It uses a process called magnetoencephalography, a neuroimaging technique for mapping brain activity by recording the brain’s magnetic fields.

Zoom Out: The data collected by Kernel’s helmets can be revolutionary in the quest to understand brain aging, mental disorders, strokes, and even what goes on inside the brain during a psychedelic trip. Kernel’s helmet provides a less invasive way to study that data than similar interfaces from rivals such as Neuralink, but it will also most likely be less accurate as the helmet picks up outside electrical interference. Johnson aims to eventually sell a device like Flow for the price of a smartphone.

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