All over the world, Nigerian professionals are making their mark at the top cadre of their different careers by expanding the frontiers of knowledge and stretching the limits of innovativeness.
Be it in academics, science, sports, finance or even medicine; their exploits have brought glory and honour to the fatherland and highlighted the immense human resources potential in the country while also challenging the government at home to do more to encourage capacity development.
One of such Nigerians is Oshiorenoya Agabi, who until a few years ago used to be based in Lagos, but now resides in California, USA.
Agabi is the founder of a startup called Koniku, the world’s first neurocomputer company. The Nigerian entrepreneur said he was inspired by the enormous potential of the human brain, and then he thought of replicating its function through technology.
Along with others in his company, Agabi is working to integrate biological neurons and silicon computer chips. The intent is to develop a computer that can mimic the human brain.
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How Agabi founded Koniku
Koniku was founded in 2017. The company is based in California, where Agabi leads a small team of Engineers and scientists. And they are committed to building new and future tech pioneers.
The young techpreneur combines his groundbreaking work at Koniku with a PHD research programme at the Imperial College London.
Koniku Seed Funding
In September 2015, Agabi applied for and received approval for $250,000 in seed funding in a bid to get the project off the ground. The finance gave a lot of impetus to the project and shortly after, the company was boosted with another $1.4 million in venture funding.
Koniku has since raised over $6 million in venture financing, receiving the backing of VCs in Silicon Valley. Over $17.5 million have been received in revenue from contracts, with a projection to accrue $200 million in four years, Agabi says.
A breathing device that can smell
Without a doubt, this funding has been put to good use by Agabi and his team at Koniku in the development of devices that have improved the treatment of diseases.
Perhaps the highest point of the company’s success is a device called Konikore which can detect diseases using smell. That means just by sending the smell from a person, the device can tell if the person is afflicted with a disease and what type. Konikore is built with a chip that merges living genetically modified brain cells and traditional silicon.
The technology works because silicon alone is insufficient for processing and interpreting data from the human smell.
This possibility, Agabi says, is founded on published literature. By detecting about four Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), you could make an educated 80%-correct guess on the presence of influenza in a human’s body after taking their breath.
The principal understanding that makes Konikore sensible is that while there are branches of artificial intelligence that interpret images (computer vision) and sound (natural language processing) for predictive analytics, the process for interpreting smell is not straightforward.
Koniku’s vision with Konikore is to augment silicon with cells from mice to produce the capacity needed for machines to ‘breathe’ and ‘smell’. The input data for this process is Volatile Organic Compounds that the body gives off when we have certain diseases.
When the device detects a given set of these compounds in a human, it can – aided by a complex interplay of algorithms – tell what disease a person has. With this innovative device, present diseases will be detected, including lung cancer and Covid-19.
But one more exciting thing about Konikore is that it can discover diseases yet to be discovered. How is that possible?
Well, it relies on the knowledge that every disease has a key organic substance that serves as its biomarker. This will also be done using data collected through the internet of things.
Koniku will be relevant in other sectors
According to Agabi, aside from Konikore, the flagship product of Koniku, his company is also developing another groundbreaking device that will be relevant in other fields, including Agriculture, healthcare, military and airport security.
He says the Koniku Kore can detect explosive material like TATP in 2 parts per billion just by exposing the device to air.
Koniku’s Global Clients
Koniku already has the military as one of its clients and is also patronised by major global brands like Exxon Mobil, Procter & Gamble, and BASF – a global chemicals manufacturer.