A Robot You Swallow with Torrey Smith

03 January 2022

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Torrey Smith, Co-Founder of Endiatx, is changing the reputation endoscopies have for being uncomfortable. At Endiatx, they are developing a pill-sized robot that you swallow, which will then livestream your digestive system for a doctor to view. Our interviewer Abate dives in.

Torrey Smith
Torrey Smith is the Co-Founder & CEO of Endiatx, a medical robotics company that manufactures tiny robotic pills capable of active movement inside the human stomach with control over internet protocol. Prior to launching Endiatx, he developed medical devices in the areas of endometrial ablation, atherectomy, therapeutic hypothermia, sleep apnea, and vascular closure.

An aerospace engineer by training, he takes a keen interest in the deep tech sector and is a proud mentor of up-and-coming founders at the Founder Institute. He is also the principal founder of the international arts collective known as Sextant, and he has had his art featured in the Smithsonian.



Abate De Mey: Welcome to the robo hub podcast. Super excited to have you on here. So Torrey , could you introduce yourself a little bit?

Torrey Smith: Sure, absolutely. Well, you know, I originally originally studied aerospace engineering because my goal was to build the future of science fiction that I had read about as a kid.

I had some relatives you know, come down with some gnarly health conditions. I lost an aunt to a brain cancer. I became very passionate about the world of medical devices and maybe more importantly, just health and technology and how we can merge those. Right. Because I, I think if you asked a 14 year old kid who reads science fiction, what they think the future of healthcare looks like, they would probably say, oh, it’s going to be like nano robots.

That would go in like an army of tiny machines and kill any tumor. Right. Okay. And then if you ask a doctor, Hey, I’ve got a glioblastoma. What’s my prognosis. The doctor’s going to say, well, we’re going to cut an incision over here. We’re going to peel your face down to your jaw. I’m going to cut out a piece of your skull and put it in a steel dish.

Then I’m going to go in and do my best to remove some of this brain tumor. And we’re going to put you back together. We’re going to put you on drugs. You know, we’ll put you on chemo and you know, in six to nine months, you’re going to be dead. So get your affairs. Right. That’s that’s like the standard of care for glioblastoma.

And my question is simple. The question is what if right? What if we could do brain surgery from a robotic platform? What if that robotic platform could be physically very small? You know, the way I envision it maybe rice screen size, you know, I would love to go molecular level, but Hey, I’m a knucklehead engineer, you know, I’m thinking in terms of objects, I can probably work on myself.

So with Endiatx our primary mission is to show the world that you can send tiny robots into the human body to do a job, any job. And we’re going to start that journey humble. And we’re going to start that journey where we can actually make something real. And, you know, let me show you what my version of tiny is.

Right. You know that this is what I call PillBot and Pillbot. It’s basically a little swimming robot that uses four little thrusters. We just use the same motors you would find in a cell phone vibrator. We just take the weights off and put propellers on them. And the goal with pillbox is just to create a moving eyeball in the human stomach.

And from there, just see how small we can get it and see if we can put surgical tools on it. Right. But it’s, you know, it’s very important to have a tangible product in mind. Believe me, like, we started very humbly with this, with this adventure. Right. You know, we just started building, using raspberry PI.

Right. You know, the basic electronic building blocks that just about any kid has access to that helped us to raise a little bit of money. And, and we started going to custom electronics and, you know, really stepping out into our own. You can see the JB Weldon Bebe’s here. Right. I didn’t raise any money with it.

But we kept pushing and we kept innovating and we got down to about the thumb size and, you know, we started to get more investment interests from the angel community at this point. And doctors began to take a little bit more interest in us. And, you know, as of today, you know, I’ve, I’ve personally swallowed 14 of these robots.

I haven’t died yet. We, we will swallow them and drive them around our stomachs with Xbox controllers. And it’s actually a lot of fun,

Abate De Mey: how long ago did this journey start?

Torrey Smith: Well, we incorporated in March of 2019 and the journey really began, I’d say close to like October of 2018.

When you know, I, if you asked me what I am now, I would humbly say like, I’m a, I’m a lowercase CEO, right? We’ve incorporated a company we’ve raised some money. We’ve done some good with our robots. So you were very excited about it, but I’m, I’m a lowercase CEO. I’m, I’m a CEO. Who’s hoping to do something big.

But if you were to ask me who I was in October of 2018, I would have said I’m a depressed aging, senior, R and D engineer who is exhausted with making other people’s mediocre dreams come true. And. The older I got, the more, I just started to feel like the jaws of fate were closing on me. Right? Like my opportunity to make some kind of a contribution in this world was starting to diminish.

And then I saw this targeted ad on Facebook that said practice, pitcher idea for free at the founder Institute. And so I really felt like, you know what, even if I’m ashamed of how old I am or ashamed that I’m not a PhD. Even if I’m afraid that people might judge me or tell me this idea of stupid, I really didn’t have anything to lose.

So I clicked on that ad. I went and I practiced fish in my company and I got slaughtered.

Abate De Mey: Was this the first idea that you pitched?

Torrey Smith: Yeah, yeah. This, this is a, this first company that, you know, I would call myself a co-founder on. I’ve been that early employee in previous companies, which I was very proud of, but this is the first company that I did.

Let’s put it that way. But the founder Institute was a pivotal experience in my life. It truly helped me to rip the bandaid off. It helped me to realize that even though I often feel crushed by imposter syndrome, that I didn’t need to feel like I couldn’t try to do something big. And I guess the thing that I’m, I’m really grateful for is that they showed me how to get my friends together and launch a company.

You know, as of today, we, you know, we’ve, we’ve raised just over a million dollars and put 23 of these robots for our own bodies. And, and actually have some of the best doctors in the world now working on this team. So very excited, but the journey began with actually, you know, the journey began with a notebook sketch.

Like I can show it right here. This is you know, this is October 18th, 2018, and my friends and I started drawing robots. We were thinking corkscrews or creepy crawlies or tank treads or inch worms, you know, we were agnostic. We just wanted to in any way possible, make this thing happen, you know, little, little legs that could move around, nitinol meshes, who knows how you would do it.

Right. But one of our sketches was submarine and after we had built half a dozen mechanical prototypes, Just done horrific things to pig intestines that we got at the local market. My older brother, who’s a Lieutenant Colonel in the air force in a, in a flight surgeon with the 1 44 is also an ER doc over at Kaiser Oakland.

He said, you know what, what if you just drank a bunch of water, could you swim instead of crawl? And that really helped to crystallize the Endiatx of, of today, right? We are a quad copter submarines. It’s basically a drone that you control, but I’ll tell you one thing. I can’t wait until I can put two cameras on this thing.

Cause you know, I wanna, I want to get stereoscopic vision and, and swim around inside a giant patient’s stomach. Right. How cool would that be?

Abate De Mey: Yeah, absolutely. And just also like talk about what the problem space that you’re solving is with this device.

Torrey Smith: Right. This is a good point.

Right? And look, I need to be really honest here. I just honesty is I think the basis for everything else that follows right. I’m here because I I’m convinced that microscopic robot surgeons in swarms will one day tackle brain tumors and antibiotics means the EMD is to look within or to go with him. The DIA DIA is diagnostics to understand what.

TX is shorthand for treatment to actually fix the problem. So I’m, I’m in it for the long haul. I want to build the brain surgery, micro robot, but people keep coming back to me and saying, what’s your problem? What’s your solution? Do you have product market fit? And why should I write you a check? Right.

And to be honest, these are really good questions. So I actually have an answer for our humble pill bot for our moving eyeball in his stomach, which doesn’t even yet have surgical tools. The problem we’re tackling is that if you ask a friend of yours who might have some GI tract issues, it could be Crohn’s or Celiac’s could be GI pain or bleeds.

We have more friends in our, in our, in our personal sphere than we might think that have had to go in and deal with these problems that the standard of care usually ends with. Knocking someone out with sedation and jamming an endoscope into their. To look around and find the ulcer or the polyp or the, the bleeding, the bleed site or the lesion, right?

Usually in some form, we need to jam a tube into your body. And unfortunately, a typical patient will tell you that it’s not on their first visit to the hospital. Like my own sister is a nurse. She’s a head. She has excellent health care and she came down with Savage, stomach pain. And I think it’s like her fourth visit to the hospital.

And two months in three months in, she finally gets the endoscopy. Because we need to do some gatekeeping. Right? I can’t knock you out just because you say you have a bellyache, right. If you’re vomiting blood, I’m going to do that right away. But for most patients first, we need to do some gatekeeping because it’s expensive, it’s risky.

We can, besides having issues with sedation, we might actually poke a hole in you or tear you. Right? And so first we’re going to try you on a diet. You know, maybe you’re eating something that’s causing problems, then we’ll try you on some antiacid drugs. Maybe, maybe that’ll solve a problem. And at the end of that process, you’ve gotten to the point where it’s time for an upper industry.

The frustrating thing is that’s a 10 minute procedure. Usually a doctor’s got their hands on the patient manipulating these tools, 10 to 15 minutes of active visual inspection. So our question, our question to the world, to the investment community as well. But our question to the world is this thing costs me 35 bucks to make in my living.

Okay. We could probably make it for twenty-five bucks in, in some kind of volume. What if I could give a doctor 10, 15, 20 minutes of active, real time inspection in a human stomach, over a zoom call. You know what, if that patient whose belly is aching could eat their dinner, but skip their breakfast, skip coffee, drink some warm water in the morning to sort of rinse out the goo.

And like I’ve done 14 times drink a couple pints of water at lunchtime swallow a robot. Yeah. Actively inspect the inside of your stomach visually in real time. And what if we could do that super cheap? Right. You know, I can show you the predicate for this world, which would be the amazing PillCam.

This was developed by a group of Israelis called given imaging or GI for short and given created in 1997, the pill camera, a passive platform to inspect the Git. And the only issue is that to date these things don’t move around and they fell into a bit of an uncanny valley of like a one maybe, maybe one to 3% use case.

Meaning as cool as pill cams are, they don’t do much more. And it’s all after the fact. So they’re, they’re used in.

Abate De Mey: Yeah, not to mention it’s a few days, if anything, for it to finally come back through the entire system and you can actually view the video on there.

Torrey Smith: Right. And our goal is just to use that platform as a predicate to basically say, Hey, let’s make a move.

Let’s start to put tools on them and let’s make them super cheap. Right. So if, if I could build this for 25 bucks, but sell it for the $500 that a PillCam capsule. But save you $15,000 of all this other medical expense. That seems like a huge opportunity, right? I mean, honestly, my goal is whatever a patient or an insurers and costs is, you know, however many the visits that was the hospital, whatever the sedation, the anesthesiologist cost, whatever med devices were used to support the event.

And then finally the endoscope itself, either disposable or. Or autoclaved or rinsed out and then potentially carrying an infection risk, whatever that cost was. I want to do that same job for one 10th of the cost, either to the patient or to the provider. Right. That’s that’s, that’s the goal. Let’s just do it way better.

Way, faster, way cheaper for an appropriate indication for use.

Abate De Mey: Yeah, but it sounds like the. Your device is taking what the, what that pill bot is. And then adding a lot more features to it, like actuation, like wireless transmission. How are you going to take the prices of that, which is currently 500 in a very simple system and then cut it down while adding so much more.

Torrey Smith: Sure. Well, let’s let’s do that and then make sure that I want to give some credit to a group of Chinese folks that amazing engineers, AnX Robotics. I believe that’s how you would call it with the Navicam. Who are actually moving pill camera’s around using external magnetic actuation. So pill cameras are starting to move and I want to give credit where credit is due there.

And I’ll speak to that a little bit, $500 is the reimbursement code that the company would get paid, that the OEM would get paid for the product. Their cost of goods is going to be something below that. Right. And then that’s how they get, you know, some amount of. My goal is to get a cost of goods at 25 bucks.

And then, you know, we’ll sell it for whatever is appropriate. But let’s distinguish the world of passive pill cameras to the active world of endoscopes, where we are actually moving around in real time because the world of pill cameras hasn’t yet achieved a billion dollars of, of like market share per year.

Right. It’s it’s a, it’s a relatively niche use case for passive. Whereas the world of endoscopes is actually $67 billion per year. If we will get endoscopes that are slid into the human body, it’s this huge market. Now let’s, let’s cut that down a little bit. Let’s look at the GI tract, right? That’s about $9 billion.

And that’s, that’s really where we’re going to focus. About 50% of that is large intestine, but the classic culinary. About 25% of it is the stomach with the balance being the esophagus parts of the duodenum just after the stomach and then the remainder of the small bowel. So our goal actually is just to go into the stomach and we’re actually not competing with pill cameras.

We’re competing with endoscopes. We’re competing with that active procedure that a doctor works on in real time. And if I just said that a Chinese company is doing magnetic actuation of pills, I better give you some differentiation on what we’re doing, because we’re essentially direct competitors with that company who, who we have tremendous respect for.

I want to be very clear with that. The differentiation would be, I want to show you the entire end diotic system. Well, it’s pill bought each of our little motors cost 40 cents. Their cell phone vibrator motors, just put a propeller on it. And we need to talk to the robot with a USB dongle. We use a low frequency radio.

That’s how we communicate through human tissue. This is our system, right? We don’t have a giant magnetic machine that you’ve got to lie inside of or Ana, and you don’t need to be at the hospital to get this procedure. We can overnight this to you. You can pair this over a zoom call or a zoom like call, you know, it’ll have to be HIPAA.

We’ll probably have something of a custom platform there, but to use zoom calls as kind of ubiquitous way to use a video call, right purchase video call these days, this is our system. And I want our system to be 25 bucks. And I want our system to be able to function anywhere on or off the planet. Right.

A refugee camp you know, like a developing country, maybe a forward deployed military. Area you could use it in the hospital and they will get used in hospitals will probably begin this adventure in hospitals. But to sort of prove a point we recently, while we were working on a mechanical engineering issue, like the buoyancy, the float ability of our capsule, we got in the cockpit of assessment at three 10 over Watsonville, California, and clawed our way up to 11,000 feet and push the nose into a ballistic trajectory.

Eventually pointing almost straight down. Just to get a couple of seconds of weightlessness, right? Because this platform works even better in outer space. Right. So the goal here is to create a hardcore form of telemedicine initially, focusing on what I think is the most appropriate market, probably stomach.

And then let’s just see how far we can go with it. Right?

Abate De Mey: Yeah. So, and then it sounds like what you’re suggesting is that this does not even really need to be used by a medical professional at least long term.

Torrey Smith: Okay. So short term, I want to give a doctor a gastroenterologist to be specific a one for one replacement of an endoscope for an appropriate indication for use.

So let’s look at three things, a lesion in your stomach, an ulcer, a a stomach bleed, something like that. These are things that we can look for visually, and we. Fairly rapidly. Be able to tell you if that does or does not exist in your stomach. So that’s going to be our first step, right?

Abate De Mey: And this is remotely operated by a doctor.

Torrey Smith: Well, that’s the fun part, right? Because right now, the only way for a doctor to perform that examination is to have you on a hospital bed, knocked out all your clothes off with tubes jammed in every part of your body. And then. That’s a non-trivial moment in time to bring both the doctor and the patient to, right.

You can imagine a lot of, a lot of procedures, like this were delayed during the time of COVID because, you know, unless you’re actively dying, we don’t want doctor patient contact. We don’t want patients in the hospital that might contract or spread COVID. Right. So like you have all these procedures getting delayed.

But let’s be clear. We’re not a COVID company. We just appreciate how COVID has shown light on the value of telemedicine. And so to your, to your point and your question. Yes, it’s remote, right? We’ve controlled these over internet protocol already. One of our youngest interns was the one that pulled that off.

He’s now at Stanford, studying cognitive neuroscience. Science and artificial intelligence. Brilliant. Right. But yeah, no, we want to, we want to control these over internet protocol wherever possible. And just, just basically, you know, step a little bit further into that future that we all want.

Abate De Mey: Yeah, no, it’s very interesting.

And also you touched on earlier about this challenge of raising money for what you’re needing, what your business goals are right now and what the current use case is. Right. Versus what some of the larger company visions are in the future. So how has that affected your decisions?

Torrey Smith: Well, I’d love to love to speak to that a little bit, you know, so, you know, if anyone’s listening and you’ve got an interesting idea.

Honestly this is the first time I call myself a co-founder it’s the first company I’ve ever named and we chose a hardware enabled FDA regulated company. Which essentially from an investing standpoint is like two very powerful slaps to the face. But anyone who’s founding a company needs to be prepared for a fundraising experience that is comparable in difficulty to certain things like getting into Harvard or Yale, right?

Like, like I think Harvard has something along the lines of like a 5% acceptance rate and. And yet it’s an amazing school from what I’m told, right? It’s, it’s a worthy challenge to take on, right? And this is why you probably apply to more than one more than one awesome school fundraising for anyone is going to be on average a 1% yes.

Rate, right? Meaning you need to get hundreds of nos before you get a handful of yeses and you close around the funding. Right. And this is something. I luckily was prepared for this reality by founder Institute, they were very clear about how difficult and punishing this this environment is. But the thing that I appreciate about how difficult fundraising is for everyone is that founding is a place for passionate founders.

It’s a place for passionate people. Believe deeply in to the very core that there’s something good in their idea. Right? You don’t want people founding companies who have some kind of backup plan, right. Because if you have an easy, reasonable backup plan, you’re probably going to take it when things start to seem hard.

Right. So I, I have a spreadsheet, you know, it’s one of my multiple tabs. That shows something on the order of like 300 frontier health tech venture capital funds that we’ve pitched and thousands of angel investors that we pitched and we’ve got a handful of yeses. And so fundraising is hard for anyone.

Hardware regulation is going to make it a little bit harder. But it also means you get to meet the people active in that space, which is a huge. Right. So I never, ever wanted to become an entrepreneur. I just wanted to be able to design tiny robots. That job didn’t seem to be available. So I realized I had to go make it right.

If, if I was trying to design a company for an entrepreneur, it would be, you know, some kind of phone app. Right. But come on, like, this is cool. It even says antibiotics on it. That’s great. Phones are great. I love and respect what we can do with ones and zeros, but there is a world out there that goes a little deeper.

Right? I love that we can analyze metadata and learn things that were not apparent to us previous, but I’m actually here for patients. Who are getting a diagnosis that is a certain death sentence, right? And I’m just trying to say for the, for, for that patient population and for the doctors who treat them, the oncologist, the surgeons, that there is a group of passionate hackers that are trying with every fiber of their being to make a new world of hardware worthy of the world’s best software.

So that together we can get. And do something about it, right? Like the first pill camera was swallowed in 1997. It’s been 25 years, the quarter of a century. It’s time to take the next step.

Abate De Mey: Yeah. And this product is really pushing the frontiers of the actual hardware development too. I mean, if I think about the other very, very small micro robots thinking a very tiny drones and such, but not, not a lot that are operating inside.

Something as wild as a human body, that’s warm. wet, acidic everything.

Torrey Smith: Sure, sure. So now’s a good time to give some credit. All right. Because we really are standing on the shoulders of giants here. Right? So first of all, PillCam given imaging, they created the concept of swallowable electronic capsules, right?

These are the founding fathers. Recently our friends over in China are, are, are taking this to the next level and saying, let’s make a move actively, but here’s where the real differentiate differentiation comes in capital equipment. And where is this procedure performed? Let’s give some credit further more to two amazing people who are bridging the worlds of academia and also like advanced founders in their own.

Right. That’d be Dr. . From the max Planck Institute and Pietro bell Dastyari based in Italy. These guys are doing amazing things with microscopic, truly microscopic moving robots usually using some form of external magnetic actuation for, for things that, you know, sort of start to approach the size of the head of a pin or even smaller.

And then Dr. Dr. Valdez street is doing amazing work. With with soft robotics. These guys are awesome. Like it they’ve been kind enough to sort of take me under their wing at times. And, you know, I really look up to them as like my heroes. If we were to speak to the differentiation that NDR is shooting for the primary one would be to decouple the patient from the hospital visit.

I think, and the funny thing, that’s not the reason we founded the company. I think that’s just something we ended up stumbling over is that we decided we would put all the tech onto the robot itself and thus the smaller the robot gets, the more places in the body will be able to go, but we will never fundamentally require the patient necessarily to be tied to a hospital visit.

And that’s, I think where you start to. Tap into the kind of thing that Peter Diamandis over at X prize challenges, founders to do, which is D monetize dematerialized go 10 times faster, better and cheaper, right? We’re not looking for incremental improvements here. We’re trying to do a total sea change.

Like let’s flip this iceberg upside down so that eventually when we get this right, we can start to hear stories from patients and doctors that say, Hey, you actually. Change the game here, like you’ve done something good that that’s the moment we’re waiting for at antibiotics.

Abate De Mey: Yeah. And it there’s definitely, also sounds like the type of procedures that maybe people would be hesitant to go into the doctor’s office to do.

In fact, they’re probably hesitant to go into doctor’s office at all. So this would make it more likely to have this actually be serviced for somebody or maybe to catch things early. Is that, is that part of the business plan?

Torrey Smith: The cheaper we make it the more accessible we make it. The earlier on average, statistically, we’re going to catch disease, right?

And this disease is an interesting word because it literally means dis-ease. It means the body not in its natural state, right. In our natural state. Our body is amazing at maintaining healing, catching little tiny cancers, and, you know, killing them off of the immune. The body is amazing. And the immune system is that is a deep dive.

If you, if you want to learn more about the immune system, right, that gets much more complicated. The more you learn about it. The bottom line is when we let things go uncaught and untreated for long periods of time, you start to run out of options. Right. You know, we lost Steve jobs to pancreatic cancer and pancreatic cancer is such a, such a terrible one because.

First of all, it’s kind of hard to diagnose, you know, it, if I was to try to scream you today for pancreatic cancer, we could do it with a form of endoscopy, right? Maybe a total body MRI maybe would catch a lump in your pancreas. Another way would be to jam a tube down your throat. Denner soft Magus into your stomach, out the base of your stomach, through the pyloric valve.

And into your small bowel, the first segment, we would then go up your bile duct, which empties in, at that location and go up through your bile duct until we find the pancreas and maybe do some targeted ultrasound there to look for lumps from, from a close range, right. Or maybe collect some fluid samples.

That procedure that I’ve just described is not a procedure you give to 6 billion people. Right. That’s that’s not appropriate. At a patient population level, we, we can’t do that for the standard of care. And so unfortunately, pancreatic cancer gets caught at stage four. Right. So my question is, what if you’ve got a bellyache and you fit the bill for a pill bot, maybe you fit the bill for our next product, which we like to call pill surgeon.

And you swallow one of those bad boys, your doctor drives around your stomach and says, Mr. Smith, do you drink a lot of coffee? Cause I’m seeing an interesting little lesion here that kind of makes me think way too much coffee. Right. And and, and, and you’re like, yeah, got it. And they’re like, excellent.

I think we know what to do. I’m going to, I’m going to prescribe you this medication chill out on this one dietary thing. You’re going to be okay. However, while we’re. Let me just drive down to the base of your stomach. Could you take another swig of warm water, warm water that triggers a bolus event. The stomach opens up and now we’re admitted into the duodenum or the duodenum.

I’m still still working on pronunciation and I’m working with international doctors. So sometimes they get different, but here we are in the first segment of small intestine and we see the bile duct, the bile duct is just this little hole. And so I just turned to point it and. Let’s advance our camera up.

The bile duct, done a little flexible stock. That’s a pretty reasonable thing to request a group of Silicon valley engineers. We can do that. Let’s put a face to ultrasound array around that camera. And you know, I’d like to call out Dr. Farah amendment. Who’s working for butterfly networks right now on a handheld ultrasound thing because her work at Stanford on swallowable electronic capsules that do ultrasound is amazing.

And I want to give some credit to her for that, but the basic idea. We just inspected your stomach and found you had an ulcer, but in five minutes we can screen you for pancreatic cancer, right? Let’s snake this little probe up your bile duct. Let’s have a look for visible lesions in the duct itself. And let’s, you know, let’s zap some ultrasound and see if we see any weird lumps.

Right. And then,

Abate De Mey: so is this something that can currently happen right now with this product?

Torrey Smith: I mean, what we’re doing is we’re trying to create the platform, the foundation, right. Let me see if I can get. Let’s see. Okay. Oh my local city, some, a utility bills, but I’m gonna use this for a check it out. So you’ve got, there you go.

You see the little thrusters, you see the electric motors, right? We’re creating a, a, a platform that can move around in five dimensions, meaning XYZ, and then roll about two more axes. It’s a quad copter. What would you do with the magic school bus? Right? The goal is to start putting surgical tools, needles.

Let’s do drug delivery, tissue sampling, right? Let’s just do everything we can until we got a family of products that are changing, changing patient outcomes at the population level, changing patient expenditures at the population level, expanding. Until you can address the wildly disparate patient populations of the world.

Right. You know a typical American with decent health coverage is going to have one outcome, but there are countries where you know, in the developing world where someone might have to get onto an airplane to fly to an endoscopy clinic, this all changes when you can swallow a pill. And if you have an internet connection, let your doctor control it over a phone connection.

Well, or let your local doctor control it directly. And not even need the internet. Right. We want to make sure both options are available. So that’s, that’s, that’s kind of a, that’s, that’s kind of, part of what we want to do is just first let’s build a moving eyeball in the stomach. I think there’s a job to do there.

There’s a big market to disrupt. So we’re very excited from a medical standpoint. We’re also very extended from a excited, from a business standpoint. But then let’s just keep going, right. You know, we, we have, we have concept sketches and design work done that that takes us all the way down to the rice grain size.

I’m not sure that this guy is going to be able to push this tech beyond rice grain size. I think at some point, if we can get, if we can make this real, if we can prove to the world that this has tremendous benefit and value to add to our community If we can get a couple of products to market a few generations and really show that it’s here and it’s not going anywhere, you know, eventually the times is going to come to step out of the way and let other people take over the reins.

Right. But in the meantime, we’ve, we’ve, we may very well have created the regulatory framework for stuff like this to happen. And the framework with which, you know, insurance companies would figure out how to engage this kind of technology. Like we’re happy to do the basic legwork with some humble first.

Abate De Mey: Yeah. And could you hold up the two pieces again? You had the, the pill and the the receiver.

Torrey Smith: Yeah, there we go.

Abate De Mey: So the receiver is outside the body and then that communicates over wireless frequency to the pill itself.

Torrey Smith: So, you know, people ask like, you know, are using wifi or Bluetooth.

Those are relatively high frequency radio, like very high data. When you’re punching through human tissue, which is basically punching through water higher frequencies tend to get attenuated and sort of they, they get absorbed by water very efficiently. So what we do is we take a trick from the U S Navy and we just start lowering the frequency until those wavelengths start to slip through water much easier.

So right now we’re operating about 915 megahertz. Right now we operate in the Laura band, which is. This a packer band available for multi-use. We will definitely tweak the frequency a little bit, but bottom line isn’t around 900 megahertz. You start being able to punch through a couple of feet of water and still have enough of a bandwidth that with a little bit of fancy software engineering and firmware, and maybe some onboard image processing that the Venn diagram starts to have some over.

So that that’s kind of where we are right now.

Abate De Mey: And then this is uploading video data over that bandwidth.

Torrey Smith: That’s right. And you know, I have a, I have a public YouTube channel where we just put videos of us testing, swallowing our fish tank videos. You can see the, you know, the, the airplane video or, you know, we put the nose down.

We’re, we’re trying to be open with our adventure because look, human lives are interesting. Right. And when we start to treat millions of patients, things get weird. Right. And I feel that it’s critically important for us to tell the world that look, we are doing everything we can to try to create something new and awesome and good that helps people and is better than the old way.

And we’re willing to share our journey as we do it. Cause I just want people to know that. We’re fundamentally passionate about this, this we’re here because we’ve lost family members ourselves. We are not here to profit. You’re off of your illness. We’re actually here to try to make it much cheaper for you.

Right. And, and I feel like the, by being open about that you know, that’s, that’s the beginning of that conversation and that’s a long conversation that, that trust will take years to build. Right. And, and, and could take weeks to do. Right. So we’re, we’re committed to the long haul. But to kind of answer your question, you know, you touched on what kind of video quality.

Oh my goodness. If you look at my video quality right now, it’s, it’s terrible. It’s almost like laugh you out of the room. Terrible. When we did our first in-human tests back in June of 2020 on that couch behind me we had a 48 by 48 grid of gray scale pixels. Right now we’re up to 160 by 160 with color.

Right now we’re pushing about five frames per second, which for anyone that does like online gaming five FPS is like, you you’d go insane if you were trying to play an online game with that frame rate. Right. Right now we have a basic Huffman compression algorithm going, which just means like a very small amount of compression.

We haven’t even done like JPEG levels of compression. You can sort of think of us as slinging. Through a very small pipeline of, of bandwidth. But welcome to our everyday world. You know, these are the things that we’re chewing on and getting our butts kicked on every day. One of the reasons we’re excited to reach out today and share a little bit of the journey is that, you know, we’re actually looking for passionate software engineers for people that write embedded firmware in their, in their sleep.

You know, we’re looking for people that will take an SPGA and get into Verilog or, or one of the other programs. And, you know, code code a compression algorithm, not using drag and drop modules if someone else program. But I want to see someone that says, I can write a JPEG compression algorithm on a SPGA in one 10th of the memory than anyone else that’s going to impress me.

Right. We’re not looking for the person that says, yeah, I’ll, I’ll just drag and drop other modules. Other people have done and hand that to you. Come on. Let’s have some self-respect here. Like we need passionate people, people who are just as passionate as we are to make this thing real. And we do swallow these robots ourselves.

You know, we’re very passionate about this.

Abate De Mey: Is that the onboarding challenge,

Torrey Smith: you know, honestly early in a company, I’d say the rules are probably a little bit more. I think like right now we’ve recently begun talks. We believe we have a lead investor for, for our seed round. So we’re, we’re very excited to move from the angel phase to the venture capital backed phase.

We have, we have a few awesome VCs that are backed us by the way, Lantana bio soft in Mexico. We flew down and pitched them in Spanish and and made good friends and they put money into our angel round and they want to be a part of our seed round loyal VC out of Canada. That that’s our set up.

Actually, those are our largest investors. And then you know, another BC going BC Scout’s put a little bit of money into us, but the rest is mainly about 50% of it as angel investors. But that that’s part of the adventure though, is coming up with an idea compelling enough, you know, to get you into a room.

But then realistic enough to, to, to make writing a check makes sense that that’s not going to be trivial for anyone.

Abate De Mey: Yeah. And so earlier you showed the progression of your prototypes where the first one looks something like a shoe sized. Yeah. There it is. It’s like a shoe sized prototype.

Torrey Smith: You see the little propellers in there, right?

Yeah. I see them. It’s a quad copter, right. That gives you the ability to go forward and back. To be able to turn or, you know, or pitch up and pitch down. Interestingly enough, we can also rotate on access really fast using the propulsion, which we think is going to be interesting for tissue excision, right.

For, for tissue sampling. Th that’s the fun part is we said, we want to move freely in a fluid volume with no qualifications. This isn’t a forward backward game. This is, this is like, give me that Oculus. Okay. I’m in the patient. What if you’re not the doctor, right? What if you’re the patient or what if you’re, you know, a family member or someone else we’ll put on some AR goggles and see a glowing hologram of the patient’s anatomy inside their body in real time?

Right? This is the stuff that we’re going to be unlocking, you know, hopefully over the next 6, 12, 18 months. It’s just super exciting. Honestly, I, this is the most fun I’ve ever had working on.

Abate De Mey: Oh, yeah. And it’s fascinating to talk about, is there a battery and an IMU in there also like what’s happening?

Torrey Smith: Yeah. So, so for those of, I guess, most people on robotics podcasts are gonna know inertial, inertial sensing, right. Right now we’re using an off the shelf coin cell battery. This is a lithium ion battery rechargeable liquid electrolyte. The reason we’re using this right now for our prototypes.

It’s mainly just that of all the batteries we could find off the shelf and readily available. This was the only one that in any sense, approached the form factor of a pill camera and could handle driving for electric motors at their, at their maximum RPM. Like we, we put a very heavy current demand on our battery.

Our next step using some of the money we’re raising. Is to go to a custom battery because for us, we don’t need rechargeability and we’d really don’t need to be involved in the world of like growing dendrites and, you know, ever like puffing up a cell after you’ve used it too many times or whatever, we only need this thing to work, but work well for 10, 15, 20.

Okay. So our battery chemistry is probably going to be the single use, lithium primary cell chemistry. Probably a lot like an Energizer escort, lithium battery. I’ve actually used those in previous medical devices and never had a problem with them. So yeah, off the shelf battery right now it’s off the shelf chips, right?

So if you look at the, if you look at the components that are populating this, this flexible. The camera’s from OmniVision. I think that costs like 70 cents. We got an PGA, we’ve got a little CC, 13, 10 microcontroller and radio combo. I mean, it’s, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a very humble first product, but believe me, and I’ll be candid here.

Look, I said earlier in the, in the, in, in, in our little meeting that, you know, I suffered. Imposter syndrome like anyone else? I’m not a PhD. I don’t have a degree in electrical engineering, computer engineering. I’m a knucklehead. I’m a mechanical designer, used to call myself an aerospace engineer. So who do I think I am trying to found this company?

I’ll tell you what, when I go up and down Silicon valley, I see a lot more people, a lot smarter than myself, selling ads on the.

Or doing sort of, not exactly swinging for the fences, with the hardware there they’re building or the markets that they’re serving. Right. You know, I see a lot of reasonable business propositions, but the majority of brilliant people I know are trapped with golden handcuffs, selling ads on the internet, or kind of enabling consumer products that don’t really need to.

And it’s not my place to judge, but I will tell you that I refuse to be ashamed that I am not perfect because I do think that the ideal we’re working on and the world, we can unlock this new standard of care. I think that is worthy of sacrifice. Right. So I started throw myself onto that fire and I’m hoping.

That by swallowing these robots ourselves, and by slowly winning over the very best doctors in the world. We’ve got the chief of GI at Mayo clinic, number one, gastroenterologist in the world. I’m answering to him now cause we asked him to join our board of directors. Right. He’s my boss, essentially. We are asking people to help us make this.

Right. And so w we don’t want to, we don’t want to brush that under the rug. I want, I want to take my limitations personally, and our limitations as a company, and actually wave them around, you know, let’s, let’s put that on our flag and this wave it around and say, Hey, we’re not perfect, but we see an opportunity to do things way better.

We do have the ability because we’re pretty scrappy. We are very creative and working. We think that what we’re holding in our hand right now is a technology demonstrator worthy of luring in the finest minds from Silicon valley and beyond from way beyond, right. To do something truly special, you know, that’s, to me, that’s what antibiotics means to me.

That is my sincere hope. It’s kind of like my prayer to the intellectual community. Please come help us do something profoundly meaningful. Right. That’s how I’d like to frame it.

Abate De Mey: And the potential impact of this product is it’s massive. And the, the mission statement is also is that it’s definitely very admirable.

Torrey Smith: We’ll tell you what it’s founding is never going to be a trivial journey. Right. You know, along the way, we now are on our second CTO, who we’re incredibly proud to have our first CTO. We moved over to the advisory board. Dan. Easily, hands down with the most brilliant people I’ve ever met. It’s just convinced he needs to get a PhD over from WPI.

So he’s back just joined the PhD program and before he left and once we signed the lease agreement with the, my company would rent his house. So we, you know, we’re, we’re continuing our scrappy or scrappy journey for now. We decided to tape $2 to the wall. Cause I challenged him to a $1 bet, which is.

We’re going to IPO and the Audix before he gets that PhD. And that’s a, that’s a fun challenge between dear friends, right. And that’s, that’s the kind of commitment we have to this vision is that look, if we had some awesome exit opportunity, that really made sense for a lot of different parties. I’m, I’m, I’m all for it.

That’s great. But our P our plan and our path and our dream takes us through. Through pill surgeon through micro surgeon, right? It takes us from a garage to a warehouse, to the Mayo clinic, cadaver lab, where we have been and hopefully soon to a little building over by our local Costco to, we can put the optics on the front end.

From there, it’ll go to a bigger building. You know, we’re going to build these here. You know, this is a very small device. You know, retails for a fairly large amount of money. And so it’s appropriate to manufacture locally. You know, it’s not like an office chair that wouldn’t make a lot of sense, but this does, we are very serious about building this thing and making it real.

And just chewing on those difficult moments. Step-by-step because, you know, without adversity, nothing really tastes good when you finally have that.

Abate De Mey: And so right now, you’re sitting there with a pretty, pretty great prototype in your hands. It’s very functional. It actually can be swallowed and it actually can demonstrate seemingly the full capabilities of what you need to do.

Maybe barring some okay. Video rate and like some software improvements and maybe miniature, rising a bit further. But what are the next steps before you’re actually able to drop this on the market and start generating that money and then being. To accelerate the business,

Torrey Smith: but I can tell you one thing.

We think that the physical size let me, let me go here. Let’s see what to got a good zero shift over to metric because we’re trying to be civilized today. So I gonna measure this Odie right now. So I’m, I’m coming on just over 13 millimeters. Just about 50 caliber. And if we look at a PillCam, you know, a typical PillCam.

No, that’s about 11.3, you know, so we’re, we’re a little bit fatter than a pill camera. Let me see here. Yeah. It’s about 26 millimeters long. We’re, we’re a little fatter than most pill cameras. We’re actually shorter than some of them. So we actually feel that we have an MVP in this form factor if we choose.

The reason for that is that you can get. PillCam arbitrarily small and you will always have a fraction of your patients who refuse this wallet. We just don’t feel comfortable. Right. You know, a lot of people have issues with pills. Some people might be a little irked about electronics, which is a reasonable thing.

We don’t need a hundred percent of people to be able to swallow this. So I don’t need to drive it down to one 10th of its size to accomplish that. If half of the people who see this refuse to. But we create a tool that a doctor can reach for half of the time. That’s a 25% use case, which is 25 times the market share at pillbox based on the uncanny valley had fallen into.

So the fun thing about being a CEO, even if let’s be honest, I’m a lowercase CEO is I get to choose where the goalpost is. Right? And so our goal is not to make the ultimate. But to make the first product quickly that can actually go do a good job and disrupt a market and fundamentally move the move the ball forward.

So we think that pill bot is going to be that MVP. So the money we’re raising right now helps us make. Essentially the same basic size and shape, but work in the ways where this doesn’t quite work well enough. I need some optics. I want to put a fish eye lens. I need some filters. I’ve got a bunch of optical Hayes and glare to deal with.

I need neutral buoyancy, which we think if we strip the metal out of this case and go with like a polymer case, single use battery, I think that that’s that’s about the Delta we’re looking for. Right? So the goal is. Close the money we have on the table. Hopefully do that before Christmas. And then go ahead and over the next six to nine.

Turn this into a real MVP, turn this into a product that does a job every single time. And that means I don’t want a blue screen of death. Okay. I want it to pair. I want it to have a reliable connection. I want the optical quality to be decent and I wanted to do with the doctor asset to do we’re going to prove that it works using what you call IRB or institutional review board trials.

This is where you do a handful of patients here in. Maybe over a few months, it adds up to like 25 patients, something like that, some inside of the U S maybe some outside of the us, some healthy distribution. We proved that it works to ourselves using IRB trials. And then we begin FDA trial. And right now our regulatory experts are saying, they think it’s going to be something on the order of about a hundred patients at a couple of clinical sites around the world to, to prove that this thing is ready for the U S.

So my goal is originally, you know, I I’m like classic Elon Musk time. Right. You know, I I’m way too ambitious. And I often see my numbers, my numbers slip I’m guilty of that. But my goal is to be selling this thing in the U S marketplace sometime in 2023, probably probably close to the end, to be honest.

Abate De Mey: Awesome. Well, Torrey. Thank you so much for speaking with us today.

Torrey Smith: It’s a real pleasure, and we’re so grateful to join this community and, and also be able to learn how to benefit from it ourselves. Right? Cause the, the people on your podcast are amazing. The stories are amazing and, you know, frankly, we’re all fascinated by what’s going on and that’s all for today.



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Abate De Mey Podcast Leader and Robotics Founder
Abate De Mey Podcast Leader and Robotics Founder

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