The term “moonshot” likely gained currency when Alphabet/Google began using it to describe research projects that were treated as possible businesses because the project had a shot at developing a business model and, even better, monetized. So far, only its Waymo self-driving technology has gotten much public attention even though Waymo may still be years away from making money.
Earlier this week, Bank of America’s Global Research group published a list of 14 moonshot technologies that the researchers said could change people’s lives and “accelerate the impact of global megatrends.”
In a series of articles beginning with this one, we’ll take a look at BofA’s 14 moonshot technologies and identify some of the public and private companies currently working on them. Today’s piece examines four moonshots: 6G networking, emotional artificial intelligence (AI), brain-computer interfaces and synthetic biology.
This one is probably the least surprising. Now that 5G is on its way to wide adoption, could 6G be far behind? 5G offers peak data speeds of up to 20 gigabits per second (Gbps) and more than 100 megabits per second (Mbps) on average.
What 6G eventually will include remains to be seen, but among the specifications being discussed are network speeds of 1 terabyte per second (TBps), an increase of 1,000-times the 5G average. The implications of such speeds promise the integration of what are currently distinct technologies into a unified source of information, not just data.
Last fall, China launched a 6G satellite and, in February, Apple began hiring engineers to work on 6G networking. Samsung, Ericsson, Nokia, Huawei and virtually every other networking company in the world is working on 6G. The Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) includes dozens of companies in a 6G working group and is sponsoring a 6G Symposium next week in Washington, D.C.
A reasonable estimate of when 6G networking may be available is around 2030. The current cycle of network upgrades (3G > 4G > 5G) takes 8 to 10 years between generations.
Advances in computing power (think quantum computing) are making it harder for people to keep up with them. A brain-computer interface could help level the field. In the near term, such an interface could offer solutions for amputees and paralytics, along with gamers who would probably pay dearly for a device that didn’t require them to use a joystick or input device other than their thoughts.
The best-known of the companies working on this technology is Neuralink. Tesla CEO Elon Musk is one of the company’s co-founders and, as we might expect, its best pitchman. The company’s initial goal is to help people with paralysis “regain independence through the control of computers and mobile devices.”
There are at least 20 other brain-machine companies, all privately held and venture-funded. Two startups to watch were identified by CBInsights in 2019.
Kernel has raised $107 million in two venture rounds. Founder Bryan Rogers has invested $54 million of his own money in the company. Last year the company unveiled a business model it calls Neuroscience as a Service (NaaS). Along with the software, Kernel has developed a 3D-printed helmet that uses sensors to monitor and record brain activity.
Neuropace came public in April at $17.00 a share and raised $117.3 million in net proceeds. The company has developed an implant to treat drug-resistant focal epilepsy. The device costs $50,000 and the company thinks its total addressable market is around $26 billion. If the device is approved for patients under 18, the market size could double.
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