Several years ago, Kevin DeMarco’s aunt was an operating room nurse who asked DeMarco—knowing he’s programming robots for a living—if there was a robot that could outfit the surgical equipment. After investigating the issue with a colleague at Georgia Tech, where DeMarco was working as a research faculty member, he decided to leave his position to create the robot his aunt had once thought of.
In this endeavor, DeMarco ended up founding RIF . botsa startup in TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield 200. Led by DeMarco, Sergio Garcia Vergara and third co-founder, Colin Farrell, an industrial designer by trade, RIF Robotics seeks to use a combination of artificial intelligence and robotics to relieve health care workers from the burden of mundane tasks so they can From focus on clinical work.
Aseptic handling – cleaning medical equipment – is also difficult for the technicians who perform it, who have to spend hours each day checking and cleaning instruments. some equipment required More than 100 steps to disinfection, and the pace of work in crowded hospitals can be relentless.
Costs can also accrue. One study It’s estimated that just 20 device errors that cause delays in the operating room can cost the hospital up to $3,385. The research found that the cost of the hospital would be up to a full year, and it would be about $48,000.
RIF does not handle cleaning. But the startup claims that its initial product, developed in less than two months, can save surgeons time by identifying, categorizing and manipulating four different instruments and assembling a small surgical tray. Two machine learning systems — an image segmentation system and an object classifier, trained on combinations of real and synthetic images of surgical instruments — help a robotic manipulator arm to grasp and move the tools.
“The main challenges for the sterile treatment industry are the lack of experienced surgical technicians, device-level traceability, infection traceability and cost traceability,” DeMarco told TechCrunch in an interview. Medical device manufacturers are interested in knowing how their equipment is used and how it is degraded in the field. Tool-level data will also help them decide where to send salespeople. Hospitals care about device-level data because it will help them work more efficiently by improving device-level tracking and device screening. Right now, most hospitals only track at the case level, but the industry wants to be able to track at the instrument level.”
Future prototypes will be able to identify more instruments, determine if there is any “vital load” (i.e. blood and bone) residues on the surfaces of the instruments and assess the sharpness of the instruments and their general condition. But even in its current form, DeMarco believes RIF has built a product that hospitals will use.
“Three hospitals in Atlanta and Veterans Affairs are interested in our product,” he said. “We have a R&D Collaboration Agreement with Veterans Affairs, which allows us to conduct customer discovery and pilot studies at their facilities… [We’ll deploy] Three alpha versions of our systems are in local Atlanta hospitals, where we already have established connections.”
RIF is currently up and running – DeMarco claims the company has a burn rate of less than $1,000 per month. But the team is not naive about the long road ahead. RIF is seeking after an initial $800,000 debt round and hopes to hire a medical device industry expert after the round ends. The company, operating before revenue, expects to ask for three rounds of financing and nearly four years before it reaches profitability.
There is also competition from vendors such as RST Automation, which sells a semi-automated medical instrument identification and organization system. Steris and R-Solution Medical – two other, if not direct, competitors – are developing robots for transporting and storing trays and surgical equipment.
DeMarco claims that the RIF solution is more capable. But the proof will be in the candy – RIF aims to turn its prototype into a manufacturable product by the fall of 2023.
“The healthcare industry is starving for innovation,” DiMarco said. “We protect ourselves from potential headwinds by developing products and solutions that industry and users directly demand.”
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