Exo Imaging recently completed a $35 million series B led by Intel Capital and joined by OSF Ventures, Bold Capital Partners, Applied Ventures and others. The Redwood City, California-based medical device company hopes to leverage these and other investments to commercialize more cost-effective, energy-efficient and user-friendly ultrasound devices.
“The current technologies that most people are using really haven’t changed since the 1970s,” said co-founder and CEO Sandeep Akkaraju in a phone interview. “They’re all based on piezo crystals that are grown and machined, which are operated at high voltages, which makes it pretty difficult to get any decent battery life.”
The key to the Exo platform is their piezoelectric micromachined ultrasonic transducers, nano-sized devices embedded on silicon chips, which gives them the potential to create an ultrasound device that uses a fraction of the power.
Exo envisions their first device hitting the market in 2020 but the company is not offering any specifics on what that might look like. They will be following in the footsteps of Butterfly Network’s Butterfly iQ, a chip-enabled hand-held ultrasound that received FDA approval in 2017. There are other products on the market including Philips’ Lumify and GE Healthcare’s VScan.
Akkaraju seemed unconcerned about Eko’s late start feeling that its technology will ultimately prevail.
“While people have delivered handheld units, they really are at a different fidelity than what folks are used to in medium to high-end systems,” Akkaraju said. “That’s a big central breakthrough, getting high quality imaging in a battery-operated device.”
In addition to replacing crystals with chips, Exo plans to layer in artificial intelligence to burn less power, enhance image quality and make the technology as easy to use as possible.
“We are going to be implementing a number of AIs: simple tools to assist the end user in finding clinically valid views,” Akkaraju said. “We want to push these tools out to less experienced users. A very big part of that is how do you make it easier to use? How do you remove all those knobs and controllers?”
OSF Ventures, the investment arm for OSF HealthCare, sees a wide array of bedside applications for handheld ultrasound. In their view, handhelds won’t replace existing technology, but rather enhance bedside diagnoses.
“We’re a hospital system, and our venture program is strategically focused to financially support technologies that we can deploy clinically that bring some strategic improvement to our current mode of patient care,” said Stan Lynall, vice president of Venture Investment at OSF HealthCare. “We envision clinicians carrying a device like this as an everyday part of their patient care protocol: A new and better stethoscope with different applications.”
Ultimately, Exo wants to make its technology ubiquitous, an advanced tool that can be used at remote clinics with small budgets. They’re also betting handheld ultrasound devices are only one aspect of a very large market.
“We believe this is a technology that will go across multiple form factors to get a view inside the body: heart imaging, intravascular imaging, endoscopic applications,” Akkaraju said. “Our goal is to make this available to key partners who are going to take it to other areas. We want to make sure it’s available broadly.”
Picture: Feodora Chiosea, Getty Images