Jonathan Rothberg, an entrepreneur who takes pride in drastically making disruptions in the biomedical industry for a couple of times already, has a typically big claim for his brand new product. The iQ, an ultrasound tool, is a cheap handheld device that has the smarts of AI, and may revolutionize the process of taking medical images in clinics and hospitals. Rothberg wants to change the game within the health industry on a global scale, as well as make the product consumer-friendly to make it as ubiquitous as a household thermometer.
Rothberg’s startup, Butterfly Network, launched the device and announced that it’s been given an FDA clearance for thirteen clinical applications such as cardiac scans, musculoskeletal checks, and obstetric exams.
Rather than making use of a piece of hardware that will control all of the settings and the image display, Rothberg's iQ can work with any iPhone. According to the company, they will start shipping units by 2018. The initial price is expected to be $2,000.
However, that’s just the beginning. Rothberg said in an interview that he and his company will be able to lower the price significantly on the handheld device. He’s also looking way ahead to radically new products.
"For the next couple of years, the company will be releasing a patch that will use ultrasound to monitor patients, as well as a pill that can be swallowed and will look for cancer within the body," said Rothberg.
All these claims are, in fact, possible because the startup makes use of a different type of technology, one that does not use conventional ultrasound. Rothberg said that this ultrasound that’s on a chip will take advantage of the fabrication techniques of the mass market which have been perfected for the production of computer chips.
"We put all elements on a semiconductor wafer. After that, we dice the wafer up to make 48 different ultrasound machines that are ultra low-cost."
The ultrasound systems that are used in hospitals and clinics all across the globe make use of piezoelectric crystals, converting energy into ultrasonic waves. The typical system is placed on a cart, and it comes with a display screen as well as several hands to take the images at different depths. A single machine costs more than $100,000.
There are a couple of cheaper and smaller devices such as the Vscan products of GE. The problem with them is that they are expensive, they use piezoelectric technology, plus they require multiple probes. All those factors brought the price up to anywhere between $7,000 and $20,000.
Independent experts say that iQ’s technology sounds promising. However, they will try to be patient when it comes to the iQ as they still need to witness the product living up to the claims that Rothberg made. The people within the health industry are very conservative and they are usually skeptical every single time someone claims they have found a cure or a wonder drug.