Anthony Leonardo joins Wispr as Chief Scientist

Wispr AI
4 min readDec 28, 2021

We started Wispr with the vision of building neural interfaces to change how people interact with technology. And we knew that to get this product to market, we would need to assemble a team of some of the best people in neuroscience, hardware engineering, machine learning, mixed signal circuits, and signal processing. At the same time, we’d be solving some hard engineering problems that hadn’t been solved before. The ideal fit were people who like to think out of the box and build creative solutions.

“He is an exceptional research leader — brilliant, pragmatic, technical, excellent communicator, who understands people and gets things done”

We met Anthony through a close advisor. He described Anthony as “an exceptional research leader — brilliant, pragmatic, technical, excellent communicator, who understands people and gets things done.” Anthony previously led a research lab at Janelia / HHMI for 10 years and has more recently been leading Janelia’s 25-person advanced engineering department — jET.

As we would soon realize, this was just the tip of the iceberg.

Anthony Leonardo — our new Chief Scientist

We spent the next few weeks getting to know each other, aligning on the cultures and values upon which we would build the bedrock of the company.

We spent a 10-hour day together, and time just seemed to fly in the middle of debugging the hardware, talking about the company roadmap, and enjoying the views of San Francisco from the top of Twin Peaks.

For any company, it is the founding team that sets the culture and values that we would look for in other team members. For us, it was to bring on collaborative, exceptional, and action-biased individuals to conduct deeply-scientific research and solve hard engineering challenges with a product-focused mindset.

After all the time we spent together, we knew that we had found the perfect match in Anthony as our Chief Scientist.

Have you seen the work that demystified how dragonflies catch their prey?

His work was on the cover of Nature. [Source]

Yep. That’s him. Wired published a story on his work back in 2013. Anthony spent 10 years as a PI on this project to understand how dragonflies caught their prey —all the way using motion capture to unravel the flight control strategy to tracing neural connections from the early visual system to the wing muscles and recording from these control neurons in free fight. Everything needed to be done on a small scale — in terms of weight, size, and time. And that meant a lot of hard custom engineering.

For this, his team built a 30mg backpack that when attached to a flying dragonfly could measure and stream neural signals back to a computer. The backpack was too light to hold a battery, so they engineered a system that was wirelessly powered by radio waves.

Tackling this problem required a series of breakthrough engineering feats at the intersection of neuroscience, innovations in hardware, battery power, signal processing, and at the end, putting it all together to make sense of the complex biological systems that control entire living organisms.

During his time at jET, Anthony led a number of projects to develop state-of-the-art engineering systems to enable research labs to answer the kinds of questions he did with dragonflies. This included one of his star projects — a custom, modular, high-speed camera for imaging brain activity. They build a 15-Megapixel sensor that was connected to a Spartan-7 FPGA that could process the high-bandwidth brain activity data in real time.

The custom, modular, high-speed camera that Anthony’s team built at the Janelia Experimental Technology Group (jET) [Source]

Anthony is someone who is unfazed by deeply challenging problems. Rather, he approaches them with a mindset of thoughtful excitement.

We’re honored and thrilled to have him join Wispr AI as our Chief Scientist to lead the neuroscience and hardware research. Follow Wispr AI to hear more updates.

Do you want to create something that everyone has dreamt of but no one has built before? Are you excited by hard problems? We’re scaling up our team. And we have some openings for roles.

Reach out to us at jobs@wispr.ai or apply directly at wispr.ai/jobs.

Update: We just raised 4.6M from NEA and 8VC among other angels. Read more about it here: Wispr raises 4.6M for its Seed.

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Wispr AI

Wispr AI is developing neural interfaces for the mass consumer market.