As the world searches for solutions to current public health problems especially the coronavirus, one biotech company continues to show vital signs.

Global aircraft manufacturer Airbus announced that it has entered a partnership with Koniku. The latter is a California-based company using biology and silicon technology to create solutions in a variety of sectors. 

Koniku’s work for Airbus is in aircraft and airport security. 

Both companies are co-developing solutions for detecting biological hazards, and  spotting chemical and explosive threats. 

Airbus will install Koniku’s Konikore;  a small device that looks like a jellyfish. 

The device is able to perform the bomb-sniffing roles that have come to be associated with police dogs. In the best conditions, Konikores are expected to detect substances within 10 seconds.

But Konikore’s pioneering features that make aircraft security possible could be applied in healthcare for disease detection. The company says the technology is being adapted for COVID-19 and future diseases.

Koniku’s detectors on display. Image credit: Platform Capital

Existing machine learning systems are able to learn and synthesize images (computer vision) and sound (natural language processing). But the method for learning the presence of volatile organic compounds has, until now, proven difficult.

Koniku’s technology combines traditional computer cells with living biological neurons to give computers power to detect odors.  The living cells are ethically sourced from mice. For each disease, the Konikore will aim to detect a defined set of biomarkers that are most closely associated with the disease. 

Koniku was founded in 2017 by Oshiorenoya Agabi, a Nigerian-born scientist who now runs the company’s team of engineers in Silicon Valley. Agabi is convinced that as the age of silicon wanes, it is inevitable that technologies of the future will be built by harnessing the powers of biology. 

“The new age we are getting into is the age of biotech. It will change what it means to be human,” he said on his most recent visit to Nigeria in February.

One of Koniku’s investors is Platform Capital, a Nigerian investment advisory and venture capital firm. 

Ponmile Osibo, partner in charge of investor relations and stakeholder engagement, says the confirmation of the Airbus deal validates the firm’s investment in Konikus’s proprietary and patented technology.

Osibo said there are other partnerships between Koniku and companies and government institutions across the world. 

“However, the announcement of these partnerships will be on a case-by-case basis,” he said to TechCabal.

The deal with Airbus has been in the works since 2017, and after several rounds of due diligence, both companies are going ahead to the deployment stage. 

In-situ testing of Konikore is scheduled to begin in Q4 2020, Airbus says, noting that the technology could improve operational efficiency and passenger experience.

For use in healthcare, Koniku is reportedly working on getting approval from the United States’ Food and Drug Administration. Should they succeed, that would indeed make the company’s technology in global demand not just for the coronavirus but other diseases. 

Agabi’s aim is for Konikore to be a sort of universal personal healthcare digital assistant, like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri. The device, he hopes, will become an after-bath medical check-up device serving as the first line of healthcare for users. 

Alexander Onukwue Author

Get the best African tech newsletters in your inbox