Abu Dhabi-based neurobotX is bridging the gap between neurobiology and AI

Abu Dhabi-based neurobotX is bridging the gap between neurobiology and AI 

By: Mark Anthony Karam
Interviews

Arriving last year at Abu Dhabi’s Hub71, tech startup neurobotX is tackling the AI conundrum in an interesting manner.

With the much-heralded Fourth Industrial Revolution upon us, companies the world over are clamoring to develop and implement artificial intelligence (AI) solutions. 

Arriving last year at Abu Dhabi’s Hub71, tech startup neurobotX is tackling the AI conundrum in an interesting manner: by bridging the seemingly disparate fields of neurobiology and AI/robotics, and thus creating a computational algorithm that is closer to human thinking than existing models. 

“I am a neuroscientist by training,” Diana Deca, the founder of neurobotX, told us. “For the past decade, I have been trying to understand how a neuron works, and I thought: ‘Well, if we can understand how a single neuron works, then maybe we can build better [computer] algorithms that are inspired by the brain and that are more energy-efficient and better at computing information.’”

Deca also holds a BA in Theoretical Philosophy and Logic, which she said is a “very useful combination” for an AI scientist to have. 

“This is also why I am approaching the field of AI and robotics from a novel perspective, which is that of deep neurophysiological insights,” she noted. “On the output side, we know that we are more advanced than current AI and robots. We can run thousands of complex operations in parallel, create new concepts, and self-reflect using the same amount of energy as a light bulb. We just need to find [the elements] that we need to emulate in order to endow those algorithms with our capabilities. And I’m very excited about making this a reality.” 

Developing fully autonomous solutions

Currently, neurobotX is developing brain-inspired neural networks and software for intelligent and energy-efficient navigation and mapping purposes, in the aerospace, defense, pharma, construction, and automotive fields. 

Some of the company’s projects include working on the development of fully autonomous software for vehicles that is efficient in its analysis of the physical space, circumventing the need for expensive tech like LiDAR sensors, which are used in most self-driving vehicles being developed today. 

Deca explained that while LiDAR technology can add up to $100,000 per vehicle, the cost of their solution is in the range of $5000 per vehicle, demonstrating that brain-inspired technology is not just interesting, but also cost-efficient.

“The traditional algorithms are often called convolutional neural networks,” Deca said. “The algorithms that we use are called spiking neural networks because they imitate the way neurons function. Currently, industries spend over $600 billion per year on cloud computing storage. With our solution, we can perform much more advanced algorithms at a very small fraction of the cost.” 

She explained that traditional neural networks for robotics suffer from issues such as data overload, as they process the entire datasets they are fed. neurobotX’s algorithms, on the other hand, are able to “detect events as opposed to pixels,” which means they make calculated decisions when deciding which data is important for them to process and analyze, often in the form of data points that show a significant difference to previous states, as opposed to reprocessing petabytes of video data every time.

“We can save up to 90% of the computation power,” she stated, attributing this breakthrough to the algorithm’s ability to behave more like the human brain in filtering what it needs. This is similar to how our brain works, by focusing attention on relevant events, as opposed to fully processing every single pixel in every frame we see. Over millions of years, this has allowed humans to develop complex processing abilities, related to navigation in unknown environments to discussing philosophy, mathematics, and moving to other planets.

“This is how we pave the way to real autonomy,” she said. “I think running more and more video data on the cloud in the same way is not going to be the answer, even if we increase the numbers of GPUs and data centers following Moore’s law. Scaling the current technology would require unrealistic amounts of capital, and human labour for retraining for every novel event. I think the answer is smarter algorithms that are more similar to our own brain.”

AI will allow humanity to focus on what’s important

neurobotX’s other ventures include developing AI pilots for the defense industry, airport mappers for the aerospace field, and more, all with the goal of processing sensor inputs from the real world and turning them into actionable data that an algorithm can utilize for advanced processing, which can allow to improve an entire corporation's operations, business model and finally allow for replacing repetitive human labour with autonomous robots, at a fraction of the cost, allowing human workers to focus on their creativity and self-development.

“With our technology, we are able to dodge obstacles and make decisions at microsecond resolution. This is very important for defense obviously, but it has many other applications in automotive, aerospace, construction, manufacturing, and many other [fields].”

Since being founded in 2019, neurobotX continues to work with prominent companies like Intel, Sony, Boeing and Airbus to develop and implement their technology.  

“My hope is that our switch to full autonomy - as in fully autonomous aircraft pilots, fully autonomous car pilots, and ultimately fully autonomous construction and manufacturing sites - should allow people in the future to focus on what’s really important, which is being creative and doing non-repetitive work that is focused on moving to new planets, building self-sustainable civilisations on this and other planets, and allowing humans to become the versions of themselves they have always dreamt of.”

Moving to Abu Dhabi

After being in operation for nearly a year, Deca and her team decided to move to Abu Dhabi after being accepted into Gothams, an accelerator located at Hub71. 

“[Gothams] focuses on aerospace and defense, and we had many people from Airbus, Boeing, and all the big players in the local corporate offices able to meet with us directly in person, which was really important for us as well as our customers,” she said.

Deca recalled being impressed by the can-do attitude present in Abu Dhabi and the UAE. 

“Not only did we feel that this is a good place now to work from based on how the pandemic was handled, but we were blown away by how innovative people here are. When talking to the clients, we felt that they’re not just discussing technology in principle - there is a very strong incentive to implement [new and innovative solutions].

“I think it’s very close to the entrepreneurial spirit of trying to build something that other people wouldn’t dream of, and actually making it happen. I was so impressed to see this country has a Ministry of AI, a Ministry of Happiness, amazing architecture including the tallest buildings in the world, as well as the new mission to Mars. This is complemented by an amazingly strong support network for disruptive tech companies and a clear strategy for allowing these companies to showcase their groundbreaking technology here for the first time and scale globally from Abu Dhabi.”

In fact, Deca and her team have had many discussions with local and international entities in the UAE regarding the country’s ambitions on Earth and beyond, such as those of building cities on Mars. 

Future plans

At the moment, Deca and her team are focused on expanding in the UAE, but also globally, with 3 worldwide offices now in Europe, UAE and the US.

“We have our chips and our sensors shipped here at Hub71 from Intel and we will be able to demo this for the first time on site [in the next few weeks],” she explained. “We want to make sure that our product delivers as expected, and [that we] close some POCs (proof of concepts) here - and potentially some commercial contracts. We are also supported by a strong network of investors, including the Gothams accelerator and Mubadala, as well as Hub71, which worked as a ramp for the expedited development of our product.”

She hopes that the UAE’s track record with nurturing innovative technology like Volocopter’s flying taxis and Virgin’s Hyperloop will help push them to success. 

Additionally, Deca is looking to expand the company team by bringing more global technical talent from famous institutions and companies. 

“We are interested in finding people who are excited about AI, robotics, and the brain, and we are happy to expand and meet more people here.”

She explained that neurobotX is currently connecting with research labs, with PhD and postdoctoral [researchers] joining the company as engineers while also getting the training that they need to be high-level professionals and entrepreneurs in their own right. 

“We believe that [through neurobotX’s industry collaborations], the experience of working with large corporations and integrating into their tech stack is going to help [these researchers] in becoming great speakers, great managers, and great technical leaders,” she said. “That’s something that we’d like to explore here as well - specifically helping people cross [back and forth] from academia to industry in the UAE and worldwide.”

neurobotX is a team of top-level researchers building brain-inspired neural networks for smart navigation for drones and cars.

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