Thursday 22 August 2019

Renishaw interested in Musk's AI, brain research

Inventor David McMurty
Inventor David McMurty

John Reynolds

BILLIONAIRE Irish inventor David McMurtry says an interface between the brain, artificial intelligence and computers - technology being developed by Elon Musk's Neuralink - presents an opportunity for the healthcare division of his own firm, Renishaw, which is pioneering tech that can stimulate and deliver drugs to the brain.

The Dubliner's UK-based company employs 5,000 people in making precision measurement equipment, 3D metal printing and healthcare technology. Its healthcare division makes a 'neuroguide' system, designed for use in deep brain stimulation procedures to enable accurate placement of electrodes into the brain. The guide tube under development at Renishaw is a long-term implant, in which the threaded area is bonded to the skull. The guide tube extends into the brain and acts as a conduit for the introduction of an electrode.

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The division also manufactures a 'neuromate' surgical robot, which positions catheters into the brain, through which drugs can be delivered using its 'neuroinfuse' method.

While the neuromate robot and neuroguide system are commercially available, the neuroinfuse technology is currently used only in clinical trials.

Mr McMurtry, pictured left, told reporters that Neuralink represents "an opportunity for us, because we are leading in the accurate implanting of guide tubes to target zones [of the brain], and the electrode for treating Parkinson's [disease] is already being done down the tubes". He added: "We see ourselves as ideally suited to this kind of future opportunity."

His company has a Silicon Valley office where it is believed to work with Mr Musk's other firm, electric car maker Tesla, and tech giants such as Apple. Renishaw declined to comment on its existing relations with Mr Musk's companies.

Last month, Mr Musk said that the long-term aim of Neuralink was to find a way to "achieve a sort of symbiosis with AI". His scientific team is currently using a robot to implant minutely thin threads - one-third the diameter of a thin human hair - deep within brain tissue, with the aim of having the brain read and write data in wireless concert with a microchip.

While Renishaw's recent financial performance has been lacklustre, Mr McMurtry's riches continue to grow.

When the FTSE 250-listed company confirmed last week it was paying a total dividend of 60 pence, this meant Mr McMurtry - the biggest shareholder with a 36pc stake - banked £15.8m (€17.1m).

Mr McMurtry was originally inspired to innovate in the area of delivering drugs to the brain after seeing a man in a pub wearing a bone-anchored hearing aid.

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