Nigerian Startup Created World First Synthetic Neurobiology to smell Bombs


“Imagine being able to detect odours a significant distance away with form factors which you can mount on a commercially available drone. The system will be complete with on board biological learning and classification.”, wrote Oshiorenoya E. Agabi on his LinkedIn profile.Osh Agabi is a Nigerian neuroscientist and engineer. He is the founder and CEO of the Nigerian startup, Koniku, a wetware company which is the world’s first neurocomputation company based in Silicon Valley. Koniku is a privately held, venture backed company using biological neurons to interface with the real world. They build systems that use real biological neurons for sensing, control and computation.

Oshiorenoya E. Agabi Academic Background

Osh who has work experience across 5 (Nigeria, Sweden, Switzerland, UK and US ) countries and speaks 5 (Avianwu, Creoles and pidgins English-based, English, German, Swedish and Yoruba) languages, started his studies in Federal College of Fisheries and Marine Technology in Nigeria where he obtained a Diploma in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, Diploma studies in marine engineering, naval studies and merchant marines in 1997. He obtained a Bachelor of Science in Theoretical and Mathematical Physics from the University of Lagos also in Nigeria in 2001.

Osh left Nigeria for Sweden where he obtained a Master of Science in Physics from Umeå University in 2005. He studied also at Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich, Switzerland (2005 – 2010), where he developed applied criteria for computability of biological neurons in vitro. He went further to obtain a PhD in Computational Neuroscience and Engineering at Imperial College London in 2014.Osh is a member of several international science and engineering societies, these include Swiss Physical Society, Swiss Society for Neuroscience, Society for Neuroscience, American Physical Society and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Drone that Can Smell Bombs from Afar

“We merged synthetic neurobiology with traditional silicon technology with the goal of fixing urgent real-world problems,” said Agabi.

The company is currently focused on two related technologies: the odour positioning system and the odour surveillance system. Koniku, which means ‘immortal’ in the Nigerian Yoruba language, started in 2015 and has already raised $8 million in revenue, according to the founder Agabi.

These technologies will replicate sensitivity and specificity levels only seen in biological systems. This innovation is based on Osh’s Ph.D. research in Imperial College London, that allows drug developers to replicate human organ drug interactions using “lab on a chip” technology in order to radically improve preclinical testing procedures.

A Nigerian startup has created world first synthetic neurobiology merged with silicon. A living neuron inside a silicon. Kudos to Osh Agabi

While computers can perform tasks humans struggle with, such as complex maths problems, there are many cognitive functions, including recognizing smells, where the brain performs much better and without requiring the massive amount of power a silicon-based processor would need. “Biology is technology. Bio is tech,” Agabi told those at the conference. “Our deep learning networks are all copying the brain . You can give the neurons instructions about what to do – in our case, we tell it to provide a receptor that can detect explosives.”

Drone that Can Smell Bombs from AfarKoniku is giving machines the ability to smell just like you, isn’t that awesome? Osh’s start up, has developed a prototype 64-neuron silicon chip and their first application is making a drone that can smell explosives. According to Osh, the drone would be able to smell bombs several kilometers away, it could also be used for surveying farmland, refineries, manufacturing plants — anything where health and safety can be measured by an acute sense of smell.

The Koniku Kore could also be used to detect illnesses in the same way a dog can smell cancerous cells. It may be able to sense markers of a disease in the air molecules that a patient gives off, according to the.

Keeping the neurons alive outside of lab conditions has proved challenging, but Agabi says they can survive for months and believes that similar future technologies will last much longer. “We think that the processing power that is going to run the robots of the future will be synthetic biology-based and we are laying the foundations for that today,” he said.


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