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Gloucestershire Business News

Elon Musk and a billionaire Gloucestershire inventor set to work together – or are they?

Technology being developed by one of the world's highest profile businessmen to link computers and artificial intelligence to the brain has the attention of a county entrepreneur.

American Elon Musk, the man who made his fortune from the Tesla electric car marque, is working on a project called Neuralink, described as an interface between computers, artificial intelligence and the human brain.

According to Sir David McMurtry, the co-founder and chairman for Renishaw Plc, the project represents an opportunity for the Wotton-under-Edge firm, which is already pioneering technology than can help deliver drugs to the brain.

Famously founded on its ground breaking advances in metrology, the Gloucestershire business is now a market leader in not only 3D metal printing, but also has a growing interest in healthcare technology.

Renishaw already makes something called the neuroguide system, used in deep brain stimulation, and is working to make the guide tube becoming a long-term implant which extends into the brain allowing an electrode to be introduced.

The neuroguide technology, and something described as a 'neuromate' surgical robot used to position catheters in the brain to deliver drugs, are already commercially available - but the technology for the latter is still in clinical trials.

According to the Irish Independent, Mr McMurtry, who was born in Dublin, said Mr Musk's Neuralink represented "an opportunity for us, because we are leading in the accurate implanting of guide tubes to target zones, and the electrode for treating Parkinson's is already being done down the tubes".

He added: "We see ourselves as ideally suited to this kind of future opportunity."

Sir David, whose personal wealth was valued this year by the Sunday Times at more than £600 million, remains chairman of the firm he co-founded in 1973 with John Deer.

None of the above is disputed by Renishaw when Punchline ran the news story past the Gloucestershire business.

But it was baffled by the rest of the article, which said that Renishaw already had a Silicon Valley office from which it was "believed to work with Mr Musk's other firm, electric car maker Tesla, and tech giants such as Apple".

Although the bit about the Silicon Valley office is true.

In 2008 Renishaw has acquired 75 per cent stake in Schaerer Mayfield NeuroMate AG, based in Switzerland, and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Schaerer Mayfield NeuroMate Sarl, a leading manufacturer of surgical robots for neurosurgery, based in Lyon, France.

The NeuroMate® image-guided surgical robot was developed and manufactured by an expert team in Silicon Valley, USA, and Lyon, France.

The Independent's story said Renishaw had declined to comment on its existing relations with Mr Musk. Renishaw's view is more that it was never even asked.

"At last week's results webcast an analyst submitted a question relating to Elon Musk's Neuralink and asked if this would have any impact on Renishaw's technology," said Chris Pockett, head of communications at Renishaw PLC.

"Sir David answered basically saying that because Renishaw has strong experience in the accurate implantation of devices within the brain to deliver therapies to specific targets, therefore if devices are required to be accurately implanted within the brain then there may be opportunities for Renishaw. That is all."

The rest of the article was described as "pure speculation".

In a presentation recorded last month, which you can view online, Mr Musk said the long-term aim of Neuralink was to discover how to "achieve a sort of symbiosis with artificial intelligence".

This month the Department of Health said the NHS would be given £250 million boost to build artificial intelligence to help treat conditions including dementia, heart disease and cancer.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the money would be invested in a new National Artificial Intelligence Lab.

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