Zander Labs

Cyber Agency funds revolution in neuroadaptive human-machine interaction

The German federal agency Agentur für Innovation in der Cybersicherheit - "Innovation for Cybersecurity" (Cyber Agency) signed a contract worth 30 million euros with the Cottbus-based startup Zander Laboratories GmbH on December 15, 2023. 

Over the next four years, Zander Laboratories will develop neurotechnological prototypes, aiming to revolutionize the interaction between humans and machines, as well as artificial intelligence. This initiative eliminates the need for high-risk brain interventions to control machines.

The contract signing took place at the Brandenburg Technical University Cottbus-Senftenberg (BTU) on December 15, 2023. Zander Laboratories emerged victorious in a competitive selection process, showcasing the most innovative idea for exploring neurotechnology in the context of human-machine interaction, beating four other contenders. The Cyber Agency's funding makes this the largest single-financed research project in the European Union.

The Cyber Agency initiated the call for proposals, titled "Secure Neural Human-Machine Interaction," on October 7, 2022, with the goal of shaping the benefits of human-machine interactions for the citizens of the Federal Republic early on, in the context of cybersecurity.


Startup impresses with groundbreaking idea

Zander Labs proposed the groundbreaking project "Neuroadaptivity for Autonomous Systems" (NAFAS), aiming to transform the interaction between humans and machines. 

Despite significant technological advancements, machines still struggle to comprehend human emotions, mental states, and cognitive decision-making. The NAFAS project employs a passive Brain-Computer Interface (pBCI), allowing users to perform actions without actively imagining them. Researchers seek to decode mental states based on brain signals, identifying categories transferable to artificial systems. The ultimate goal is to explore a new generation of machines capable of real-time adaptation to user cognitive and affective states, enhancing user experience and autonomous system effectiveness without manual input.

Prof. Dr. Thorsten Zander, Managing Director of Zander Labs and Lichtenberg Professor for Neuroadaptive Human-Technology Interaction at BTU, eagerly anticipates the start of the NAFAS project commissioned by the Cyber Agency, along with his team. "It is our stated goal to redefine the interaction between humans and technology: We aspire to systems that can intuitively adapt to the individual user based on their brain activity and to AI applications that learn directly from the human brain," he said with enthusiasm and determination.

"The project convinced us with its conceptual strength and innovative approach," stated Dr. Andreas Schönau, Deputy Project Manager and Research Officer in the field of Human-Machine Interaction at the Cyber Agency.  "The implicit approach is unique and has the potential to establish new scientific standards in neuroscience."

In the next four years, researchers at Zander Labs will develop a neurotechnological prototype. These prototypes are intended to be capable of extracting information from the brain, allowing individuals to exchange information with an external system through their thoughts and guide it to perform a task or acquire new skills. If successful, humans and machines can collaborate through the pBCI to perform actions, pursue goals, and exchange information. At the conclusion of the project, four demonstrators are intended to be created, contextualizing the presented principle and applying it to specific use cases in internal and external security.

Human-machine interaction without invasive interventions

"The revolution lies in enabling machines to capture and interpret brain data in real-time, providing insight into the current, individual perception and interpretation of the user. This allows us to transfer the user's knowledge, values, and goals into the machine, enabling intuitive interaction," summarizes Prof. Dr. Zander.

"This approach in the field of Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCI) clearly highlights the differences in approach between the USA and Europe. While the USA prefers invasive methods, primarily focusing on medical applications, we opt for non-invasive technologies with the aim of serving users without restrictions. This will revolutionize human-machine interaction." 

At Zander Labs, the utmost importance is placed on the safety and privacy of processing brain data and its transmission to the machine. This is achieved by making the systems compatible with humans, ensuring that Artificial Intelligence aligns with human intelligence. 

Despite significantly higher funding in the USA, this groundbreaking research approach is being reconsidered in Germany and Europe. In this field, Europe holds a leading position in research.

As the driving force behind this project, Zander Laboratories GmbH consolidates both its own expertise and the specialized knowledge of subcontracted institutions. These include: the Fraunhofer Institutes for Photonic Microsystems (IPMS) and for Digital Media Technology (IDMT), the Dutch TNO, Brain Products GmbH in Munich, Eaglescience Software B.V. in Haarlem, as well as academic institutions from the Brandenburg Technical University Cottbus-Senftenberg, the University of Vienna, and the Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg

Significant importance for the scientific location

In their speeches, the speakers present emphasized the significance of this research assignment for the scientific location in Germany, especially for the region in Eastern Brandenburg. 

The Research Director of the Cyber Agency, Prof. Dr. Christian Hummert, stated in his welcome address: "We are aware that we are entrusting a highly risky research assignment here. If what Prof. Dr. Thorsten Zander has proposed with his NAFAS project succeeds, we can compete with the USA in Germany and, particularly in passive Brain-Computer Interfaces, be technologically ahead. This characterizes disruptive research for Germany's digital sovereignty, a venture that we, as the Cyber Agency, finance and support with the largest research funding to date."

In the greeting message from Brandenburg's Minister for Science, Research, and Culture, Maja Schüle, it is stated: 'With pride, we can look at one of the most important scientific locations in the state of Brandenburg. Prof. Thorsten Zander demonstrates with his revolutionary approach that technological research is possible in Germany, particularly in the eastern part of the country. Through the special mission of the Cyber Agency, which initiates and funds research in the field of cybersecurity, outstanding ideas can emerge from the shadow of major players and contribute to Germany's digital sovereignty."

The Mayor of Cottbus, Tobias Schick, emphasized: "The commissioning of Zander Labs will strengthen the scientific excellence of the city and influence the development of innovative technologies. Through this significant scientific contract with a Cottbus-based company, the transformation of our city into a future-oriented region will be propelled. The municipal administration will continue to promote collaboration between the municipality, scientific institutions, and the business sector to further develop Cottbus, with its university and research institutions like Zander Labs, into a center of scientific progress in the Lausitz region." Dr. Markus Niggemann, Deputy and Head of the Department of Financial Management, Economic Development & Social Affairs, directed the greetings to the participants.

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Michael Hübner, Vice President for Research and Transfer at BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg, stated: "We congratulate Professor Zander and his highly innovative startup on securing this project. The technology he and his team are researching will find applications in many areas. These areas align well with the profile lines of BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg, especially the profile lines of 'Sensorik und künstliche Intelligenz' (Sensing and Artificial Intelligence) and 'Gesundheit und Life Sciences' (Health and Life Sciences). I look forward to the research results and collaboration with his startup."

To the contract signing, we welcomed:

Dr. Markus Niggemann, Deputy and Head of the Department of Financial Management, Economic Development & Social Affairs, representing Mr. Tobias Schick, Mayor of the city of Cottbus/Chóśebuz.

Prof. Dr.-Ing. habil. Michael Hübner, Vice President for Research and Transfer at the Brandenburg Technical University Cottbus-Senftenberg.

Scientific Publications:

Kapitonova, M. Kellmeyer, P., Ball, T. (2022): A Framework for Preserving Privacy and Cybersecurity in Brain-Computer Interfaces Applications. NeuroMentum AI on behalf of The German federal agency Agentur für Innovation in der Cybersicherheit - “Innovation for Cybersecurity"

Zander, T. O., & Kothe, C. (2011). Towards passive brain–computer interfaces: applying

brain–computer interface technology to human–machine systems in general. Journal of

neural engineering, 8(2), 025005.

Zander, T. O., Krol, L. R., Birbaumer, N. P., & Gramann, K. (2016). Neuroadaptive

technology enables implicit cursor control based on medial prefrontal cortex activity.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(52), 14898-14903.

About the Innovation for Cybersecurity Agency

The German federal agency Agentur für Innovation in der Cybersicherheit - "Innovation for Cybersecurity" was  established in 2020 as a fully in-house company of the federal government under the joint leadership of the Federal Ministry of Defense and the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building, and Community. The German government founded it with the aim of adopting an application-oriented and cross-departmental perspective on internal and external security in the field of cybersecurity. Against this backdrop, the Cyber Agency's work primarily aims at the institutionalized implementation of highly innovative projects characterized by a high risk of goal achievement but, at the same time, possessing significant disruptive potential upon success.

The Cyber Agency is part of the National Security Strategy of the Federal Republic of Germany. Prof. Dr. Christian Hummert serves as the Research Director and CEO, while Daniel Mayer serves as the Managing Director.

About Zander Labs

Zander Labs is an innovative German-Dutch company in the field of passive Brain-Computer Interfaces (passive BCI) and Neuroadaptive Technology to improve Human-Computer Interaction (HCI).

With over fifteen years of experience delivering cutting-edge HCI, our expert scientific team led by Prof. Dr. Thorsten O. Zander –a pioneer in the field of passive BCI and neuroadaptive technology– carries out fundamental research and develops practical solutions for various industries to generate truly intelligent, uniquely human artificial intelligence. 

Aditional information


Press release (in German)

For more information, please contact:

For more information, please contact:

Michael Lindner

Spokesperson of the Cyber Agency

Tel.: +49 151 44150 645