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Elon Musk Unveils Woke Studios’ Design For Neuralink Surgical Robot

Early digital sketches of the robot. Credit: Afshin Mehin (WOKE)

One year ago, Elon Musk revealed to the world his latest project - Neuralink - and the creation of a brain implant that enables humans to control technology with their thoughts. In his viral 90-minute presentation, Musk showcased Neuralink’s pioneering Brain-Machine Interface and the initial design for the world’s first in-brain wearable device. At the time, the system consisted of an implanted microchip and nearly invisible ‘threads’ that can send and receive data directly through the brain’s neurons; this connected into a discrete unit that fits behind the ear, which was designed in collaboration with industrial designer Afshin Mehin and his team at Woke Studios. After a year of silence from the company, Musk is now releasing their first update, including a first look at the Neuralink surgical robot, which has once again been created in collaboration with the industrial design team at Woke Studios.

Neuralink’s engineering team created the groundbreaking technology for a robot which could perform an extraordinarily complex surgical procedure of implanting neural threads safely into the brain. The outcome of this procedure is to provide people with the ability to communicate with technology directly with their thoughts. The Neuralink engineering team was able to build this incredible robot and, in moving to productize it, worked with Woke on the industrial design for use in clinical settings as well as the aesthetic design that would comfort potential patients and still express the futuristic nature of this technology.

While the benefits of the surgery could mean providing mobility to a person affected with paralysis (or, as Musk himself has proclaimed, to prevent a global AI takeover), the risks of the operation mean the surgical robot has to be designed with zero room for error. At almost eight feet in height and moving in 5 axes, one of the biggest industrial design challenges was in enabling the full range of motion necessary to accurately target the surgical needle in a form factor that appears clean and effortless. These were some of the main technological and operational limitations that guided the industrial design for the final robot.

The robot being unveiled today can be divided into three parts:

First, the ‘head,’ which holds the needle that performs the operation. This piece guides the surgical needle, and is home to a plethora of cameras and sensors to perfectly capture the entire brain. Woke Studios designed an encasement which provides an anthropomorphic characteristic cognizant of similar, less invasive medical technologies, in order to give as much of a friendly-feeling presentation as possible. The inner facade of the head is softly colored with angled wings to provide a sense of visual comfort, and as the bulk of the machine had to be white for sterility purposes, this juxtaposition immediately becomes the robot’s focal point.

Embracing visual asymmetry with soft, car-like curvature, the body of the machine provides the mechanics for controlled movement. Because white coloring is necessary for sterility, we were able to provide a visual dynamic while enhancing safety through the use of color to highlight ‘‘pinch-points’ - areas in which motion occurs that may injure an operator. The body attaches onto the base, which provides weighted support for the entire structure, holds the processing power to operate the entire machine, and also allows for maximum ventilation in a discrete manner.

The use cases for this technology are limitless. Which, of course, means there is opportunity for both positive and negative outcomes on human life. The reason our team at Woke Studios was enthusiastic to participate in this collaboration is simply this: we believe it is the role of the designer to realize the vision for our best possible future. This robot is only the beginning; the questions we are now asking ourselves are, how can we design the feeling and experience of sending and receiving data to your brain? In what ways can thought-controlled technology provide independence and life-altering abilities to those who need it most? And how can we bring this technology to life while avoiding negative possible outcomes? It is humbling to work with Neuralink in answering these questions, and helping to shape our future with technology. Brain-Machine Interfaces will change the course of humanity, and we can only begin to imagine what experiences this future holds.

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