People often wonder what can be achieved using brain-computer interfaces (BCI). Through this article, I felt like I could help people understand more about this technology from a business perspective thanks to my experience. Indeed, for the past six months, I have been working on a non-invasive commercial BCI for athletes.

In this article, I’ll present the main non-invasive and non-medical commercial BCI applications, present the strategic role of brain data in new business models, mention the leading companies in this field, and share my experience building a BCI prototype.

Invasive vs Non-invasive BCIs

Before getting started, I must explain some key elements regarding BCI.

BCIs are designed to read your brain electrical signals (thoughts, feeling, …) — sometimes through EEGs (different approaches exist).

Electroencephalogram (EEG): Monitoring method that detects electrical activity in your brain using small electrodes attached to a scalp. This activity shows up as wavy lines on an EEG recording. (1)


The main difference between non-invasive and invasive BCIs.

Invasive BCI “requires surgery to implant electrodes under a scalp for communicating brain signals” (2). Using invasive BCIs, we generally get more accurate results.

However, you can suffer from side effects due to the surgery. Unfortunately, after the surgery, scar tissues may form which can make brain signals weaker. Moreover, the body “can reject implanted electrodes” (3).

The most famous invasive BCI is probably the one from Neuralink.

Partially invasive BCI devices also exist. Usually, they are implanted inside the skull but stay outside the brain. From a technical perspective, “they produce more accurate results than non-invasive BCIs and are less risky than invasive BCIs” (4).

As of today, the majority of BCI applications available to the public are non-invasive.

Why developing commercial BCIs

First of all, you should know that BCIs are not something new. Indeed, scientists have been working on BCIs since the 1970s for medical purposes. Thanks to the progress made in the medical field, the technology “recently” moved into the consumer sector.

The development of other technologies (AI, VR, …) has also made strategic for companies to work on commercial non-invasive BCIs (beyond the obvious medical field). As a result, a growing number of startups and large tech firms are trying to develop noninvasive BCIs.

BCIs are seen as strategic for different reasons. First of all, they represent the potential “next hardware interface” (5).

Hardware interface

We are getting close to a major revolution in the way we control our devices. In the upcoming years, controlling devices using our brain will become the norm. As you can imagine, is it key for large tech firms to start preparing their products ecosystem to this future reality.

Synergy with AI

The other strategic element is to combine AI and BCI and create unique experiences thanks to them. AI is already being used in some commercial BCIs. Machine Learning (ML) can be used to analyze and classify brain waves in real-time. This can be very useful when “trying to measure user intent” (6).

ML also helps “decoding the brain electrical activity with high variability and non-stationary noise into a meaningful signal” (7). ML has proved to be useful while building BCI applications.

Moreover, an “EEG dataset is high dimensional, deep learning models with a high number of parameters are interesting in the context of learning the raw EGG signals directly” (8).

Combining AI and BCI can create new opportunities and enable the user to experience something totally new (competitive advantage). For instance, BCIs can be used to create new content leveraging the brain-activity of the spectators and generative adversarial networks.

Strategic Markets

Some markets can become quickly profitable for a company developing a BCI solution. For instance, the marketing/advertisement field can generate a lot of revenues. Even though there aren’t current devices (write to me if I am wrong) or applications designed for marketing purposes, research suggests that BCIs will be used with them in mind.

Indeed, some studies have already pointed out that BCIs could be used to evaluate the attention levels generated by commercial ads. It is safe to assume that many companies will be interested in developing a solution to measure this key KPI for Marketing professionals.

Augmented Human

BCIs are also strategic because of the data we can collect related to the human body. This ability to collect strategic data is important since we have entered the era of “Human Augmentation”.

Augmented Human: Refer to technologies that enhance human productivity or capability, or that somehow add to the human body. (9)

BCIs will complete or replace existing smart devices such as smartwatches and ultimately help us achieve more. In the upcoming years, I expect to see a growing number of startups competing in building BCIs that can analyze users’ moods, help improve and concentration, etc.

Our project: I am currently working on a project that helps athletes improve their physical performances thanks to the analysis of brain data. We combine this data with sensors and past performances using computer vision. The goal is to better understand how athletes react to certain situations and help them better manage their stress. After several tests, we have started working on a non-invasive BCI that would help individuals better understand their sports performance.

Towards invasive BCIs

I also believe companies are also interested in developing non-invasive BCI solutions to associate their brands with this technology and quickly build trust with customers. A trust that will become strategic once invasive BCIs will become mainstream.

Brain data

Perhaps the biggest reason why companies are investing in BCIs is called brain data. As you know, monitoring brain activity with BCIs produces a lot of information.

Indeed, your brain produces a unique pattern of brain waves, giving you your own personal neural fingerprint. The way you react to some visual elements, your sleeping and attention data, etc. All of this can be captured and sold to other companies.

Who owns the brain data and what is it being used for?

The company that will own the most brain data will probably have a significant competitive advantage over the others. Imagine the impact of data network effects but applied to BCI and brain data…

Moreover, having access to someone’s brain data can strengthen the lock-in effect. For instance, your brain data could be recorded and used for a personal identification system. This simple “feature” can reinforce your relationship with a BCI manufacturer.

Who owns the brain data and what is it being used for?

Challenges of building BCIs for commercial purposes

As you may know, the commercial non-invasive BCI market is still in its infancy. For this reason, companies are still trying to find the best approach and methodologies.

In my opinion, we are still 2 or 3 years away from seeing BCIs become more mainstream. According to some industry experts, the main challenge is “to find intermediary markets that can still benefit from early iterations of BCIs” (10).

Creating easy-to-use, accessible, intuitive, safe BCIs that can give good accuracy is still a major challenge.


The device in itself is a major challenge (expensive, difficult to run with it, can be heavy, not discreet, …). Some companies are exploring the idea of developing sensors that integrate with earbud headphones that monitor electrical brain activity. Moreover, there’s major calibration work to be done for each individual… We are still far away from a device as intuitive as a smartphone.

Demonstrating the usefulness

In several use cases, it will be difficult to convince customers to purchase BCIs. Do people actually care about controlling devices with their brain wearing a specific device? The answer is not that obvious.

For instance, in the case of lighting control, you might as well as just use a remote controller. I expect to see a growing number of startups pivoting to find the best use case. This necessity is a major risk for BCI startups because of the amount of technical development and funding required.

It is also difficult to find the right price for a BCI solution. Finding the right balance between production costs and retail price is not an easy task for BCI companies.


Several BCI companies have considered pivoting (from BCIs to wearables). Indeed, some business applications such as sleep monitoring already represent a crowded market. In the shorter term, it is critical to find for BCI players relevant and unique intermediary applications.


Another worth mentioning potential issue for BCI solutions is related to EEG data. For non-invasive BCIs, “the skull and tissue between the electrodes and the brain result in weaker signals and slower transfer of information” (11). Obviously, this limits how well the user can control a device. Researchers are trying to overcome these limitations to improve EEG’s utility for both medical and non-medical applications.

In some cases, the user basically has to go into a “meditative state to achieve control of brain modulation” (12) that can allow control of a device. Finally, current non-invasive BCIs tend to require intensive training.


Just like AIoT strategies, I believe that one of the main challenges for BCI companies will be to integrate an ecosystem made of solutions from other companies. If tomorrow, large tech firms decide to build BCIs that only work with certain products, it will be difficult for startups to compete with them.

Ultimately, BCIs can strengthen the lock-in effect.

BCIs will play a significant role in the smart home industry and probably replace smartphones over the long term. I am afraid the non-invasive BCI industry will more or less look like the smartphone industry (oligopolistic).

The use of BCIs in the smart environment field isn’t restricted to the home. There are also developments designed for the workplace or the car industry. For these reasons, I am afraid that we might have a market with a few BCI devices and many different “applications” made by other companies.


The industry somehow suffers from a lack of clarity as to which devices qualify as BCIs (consumer side). Furthermore, the question of brain data is still unclear. Can we sell brain data? Do we have to comply with certain rules such as GDPR? What happens if a BCI is hacked?…

When it comes to medical devices, “the Food and Drug Administration regulates everything— including some BCIs. However, several BCIs are not classified as medical devices, and instead are marketed directly to the consumer market” (13).

List of potential non-invasive and non-medical commercial BCI applications

Below, I listed the most frequent applications of non-invasive and non-medical BCI applications.

What can BCIs do?
Currently, commercial BCIs tend to focus on understanding your emotional states or which movements you intend to make. As mentioned by Jo Best “A BCI could pick up when someone is thinking ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but detecting more specific thoughts are still beyond the scope of most commercial brain-computer interfaces.” (14)

Moreover, “most commercial BCIs can only interpret your thoughts, but can’t put any ideas into users’ minds. However, experimental work is already being undertaken around how people can communicate through BCIs” (15). We can imagine that soon enough we will be able to share experiences with others far away by sharing the brain’s neural activity.

It’s still early days for BCI technology, but we’ve seen promising results.

Different applications and studies of non-invasive BCIs are:

  • Sleep patterns analysis
  • Fatigue and mental workload analysis.
  • Mood detection. For instance, “a system that monitors the user’s brain to adapt the spaces accordingly in terms of temperature, humidity, lighting, and other factors.” (16) Recently, Nissan in cooperation with Bitbrain presented the first prototype of Brain-to-Vehicle interface.
  • Emotions analysis
  • Controlling devices (robotic arms, etc.)
  • Personal identification system using brain waves.
  • Boosting physical movements and reaction time using transcranial direct stimulation.
  • Workplace analysis/Maximize productivity. For instance, there are projects to develop an application to analyze an operator’s cognitive state, mental fatigue, and stress level.
  • Marketing field: In this field, “Studies have pointed out that EEG could be used to evaluate the attention levels generated by commercial and political ads across different media. BCIs could also provide insights on the memorization of those ads.” (17) In general, “BCIs could be used to optimize internet ads or TV spots” (18).
  • Educational field: In this field, “BCIs could help identify the clearness of the studied information for each student, allowing teachers to personalize their interaction with each student depending on the results” (19).
  • Entertainment field: In this field “BCIs could be used in video games. For instance, players could control their avatar using only a BCI. When it comes to movies, BCIs can help to create interactive films with the use of the brain-activity of the spectators.” (20) In the future, “Audiences in the future will be empowered to immerse themselves and collectively control a film through their combined brain-activity” (21).
  • Military field: In this field “BCIs have been used by Soldiers to pilot a swarm of drones at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)” (22).

Companies working on commercial non-invasive BCI

Below, I tried to list some companies currently working on non-invasive, non-medical commercial BCIs. If you know more companies, do not hesitate to contact me, I’ll add them to the list.

Facebook purchased a BCI company, CTRL-labs, for a reported $1bn. Facebook is working on several projects. One of them being related to the translation thoughts to speech. The second one is about the interpretation of movements someone wants to make from their brain signals alone.

Neurable is focusing on creating “everyday” brain-computer interfaces.

NextMind, makes a “noninvasive neural interface that sits on the back of one’s head and translates brain waves into data that can be used to control compatible software” (23).

Other companies:

  • Orbityl
  • Paradromics
  • Thync
  • NeuroSky
  • Emotiv
  • InteraXon

It’s still early days for BCI technology, but the results are promising. However, “scientists in this pioneering field make it clear that we have not even scratched the surface of the potential applications of brain-computer interfaces (BCI)” (24).

If you are interested in BCIs, I recommend the following links: