Biotech startup Koniku is trying to develop robots that can detect covid-19 infections faster than conventional tests.
The technology unites neurons with a silicon chip to create a “cyborg with smell” capable of detecting odors ranging from explosives to pathogens.
Koniku’s first clinical trial began three weeks ago and will examine samples from patients tested for covid-19 to compare how well the smelling robot detects the virus compared to traditional methods. Small internal tests have already demonstrated that the robot can accurately detect the presence of influenza A.
“Our goal is to have a device that combines synthetic biology with silicon and maps all the odors of human life on a global scale,” said Oshiorenoya Agabi, CEO and co-founder of the company based in San Rafael, California. “We must have a device in every home in the United States to screen for disease,” he added.
Pathogens produce unique volatile organic compounds, a kind of odor fingerprint, released by diseased cells. These characteristic odors are the same biological clues that allow dogs to sniff out dozens of diseases.
Finland tested the ability of dogs to detect covid-19 in a test at Helsinki airport last month.
Koniku’s device, the Konikore, is a little smaller than a Frisbee and resembles a flying saucer. When the proteins on your chip join a sense of smell that has been programmed to detect, the cells amplify and process these signals with the help of machine learning, and the device lights up.
In a recent field test in Alabama, the device was able to detect explosives better than trained dogs. The test was conducted by the police and aerospace giant Airbus, a Koniku investor and partner who has been working to implement the technology at airports.
Koniku plans to conduct field tests with Airbus at Singapore’s Changi Airport and then at San Francisco International Airport later this year.
Koniku’s fusion of biology and computer technology – often called “wetware” – is a growing field. The company’s investors include SoftBank, Platform Capital, Halfcourt Ventures, Changi Airport and Airbus’ venture capital arm.
Koniku hired Treximo, a biotechnology and project management consultant, to conduct its tests for SARS-CoV-2.
Testing for new devices is usually much faster and less intensive than testing for new drugs.
Treximo expects the tests to be conducted with the necessary steps to apply for an emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the first quarter of 2021.
(Original article: Covid-Sniffing Robots Offer Testing Alternative)