Niura has developed a pair of earbuds that monitor brain activity and, it claims, can both watch for potential health issues and match music to a user’s mood.
The founders, Ryan Ahmed, Shahriar Huda, Dang Nguyen, and Authoy Das, had the idea of neuromonitoring during their high school years after their family members grappled with brain health issues.
Ahmed, Niura’s CTO, tells TechCrunch that after his father suffered a brain aneurysm, he and his co-founders realized a lack of early detection resources could make it difficult for people like Ahmed’s father to prepare themselves for “undetected neurological threats.”
Niura, which is exhibiting as part of the Battlefield 200 at TechCrunch Disrupt 2023, says its electroencephalography (EEG) integrated earbuds, which under the FDA’s class II medical classification, are an accessible and affordable way to monitor brain health and potentially save lives through early detection of brain disorders.
Pari Patel, the clinical research coordinator of Niura, says its most recent paper that the company demoed at Sling Health reported that its “in-ear EEG technology had demonstrated capable of exhibiting neurological activity and detecting brain wave abnormalities such as cerebral infarction and hemorrhaging.” Niura also has been recognized by the Ingenium Reception and Source Conference at the New York Institute of Technology, Patel says.
The one-year-old startup offers conductive silicone electrode technology implemented in earbuds called Neural and a mobile application. Its prototype started out with an Arduino, a modified heart monitor and Fast Fourier transform, and the company has progressively shrunk it with NeuralONE (30 x 30 mm), “a chip encompassing the EEG reader, audio data and data processing parts,” then NeuralTWO (22 x 22 mm) and NeuralTHREE (20 x 12 mm), eventually compressing the PCB to fit into regular earbuds. Ahmed says NeuralTHREE is ready to deploy for earbud integration.
The app provides a range of features, including “real-time visualization of EEG data, data-sharing capabilities, and in-depth data analysis tools.” The data is password protected and it adheres to the IRB (Institutional Review Board) guidelines established by the HHS (Health and Human Services) and FDA (The Food and Drug Administration), the stringent requirements of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and complies with guidelines set forth by both the CE (Conformité Européenne) and FCC (Federal Communications Commission), according to Patel.
“Our business model revolves around licensing our product, ensuring partnerships maintain the highest standards of security. This strategic collaboration with leading companies also allows us to advance our research collectively,” Patel explains. “Furthermore, we employ end-to-end encryption to protect the data. Users can comfortably store their data in the Apple Health app or its Android counterpart, and we ensure that the treatment of this data aligns with established standards set for other wearables.”
Niura’s dual licensing will allow the incorporation of its EEG technology into products like earphones, headphones and medical devices. Niura intends to launch a licensing program for earphone/headphone makers like Bose, Samsung, and Sony, as well as biomedical companies like Regeneron, Medtronic, and Siemens. Ahmed tells TechCrunch that Niura is in talks with a couple of these companies already.
“Our product can be used in clinical, professional, and personal environments, making it very versatile,” Ahmed continues. “While traditional EEG technology can only be used before or after surgical procedures, Niura allows physicians to safely perform open-brain surgeries while tracking EEG data through these ear tips. These earbuds also offer ambulatory and remote usage, so patients and clinicians can minimize costs and resources while ensuring patient care.”
Niura claims its earbuds improve on competitors with better user experience and comfort. The company says other competitors sell more invasive and less versatile products. For example, Muse’s smart headband, which also uses an EEG brain sensor and detects the user’s brain health, cannot be worn throughout the day, Ahmed mentions. Niura’s earbuds can continuously monitor the user’s brain activities and remain precise even in sweat, he adds, which can affect EEG readings.
When asked regarding its AI-powered music recommendation, which is not the feature the company is currently offering, Patel says its potential “stems from its in-ear EEG electrode’s proximity to the auditory cortex, which is responsible for processing music and audio.”
“This in-ear placement of electrodes allows us to efficiently monitor the auditory cortex, gaining insightful data from it,” Patel explains. “By tracking EEG data, we can not only enhance audio experiences but also tap into nuances like mood and emotions. These insights significantly enrich the capacity of our algorithms, empowering them to recommend the most fitting music to play next on the user’s playlist.”
The startup, which is bootstrapped, is currently looking to raise $550,000 in seed round to deploy its products to earbuds through partnerships. The outfit currently holds six provisional United States Patent and Trademark Office patents, including charging dock and conductive ear tips and four nonprovisional patents. Niura has 30 staff as of today.