The co-founders of Aris MD, CEO Chandra Devam and CTO Scott Edgar, met at summer camp as eleven-year-old wunderkinds and bonded over their love of science fiction. As they grew up, Devam, ever the entrepreneur, hired Edgar to install carpets for one of her first businesses. Devam became a model and real estate investor, while Edgar studied Artificial Intelligence at Stanford. Years later, when Devam had an idea for a company that required a visionary technology developer, she lured Edgar from his job. They sold that company privately. Subsequent to this sale, Edgar went on to become the brains behind Dryft, which quickly sold to Apple. “If you have an iPhone and you use the keyboard on that phone, I did a lot of work on patented technology that drives that keyboard,” said Edgar.
Several years later, Devam was having minor surgery when a surgeon nicked an artery and endangered her life. Devam wondered, given all the advances in imaging technology, why there is so much guesswork involved in surgery. She and Edgar soon discovered there was a real need for a product that could turn a CT scan into, effectively, X-ray vision. Using computer vision and augmented reality glasses, the scans can be anchored to the human body. When viewed by a clinician wearing the XR device, the body reveals its intricate layers. There’s a lot of computation and different technologies in the stack of technology Edgar created, but x-ray vision is a pretty good metaphor for the lay reader.
“Medical error and specifically avoidable medical mistakes are the third leading cause of death in the United States which is possibly the most medically advanced country in the world,” Edgar said at NASA Ignite at SXSW in March. “Did you know that your heart, my heart, your lungs, my lungs, they’re all in different places. We are as different on the inside as we are on the outside. This is pretty obvious if you think about it. I mean you and I look very different. There’s no way that our organs could be in the same places and there’s no way for doctors to understand that easily at this point in time. So, right now when they look at medical imaging, be that CT, MRI, any of that sort of imaging, what they do is they look at it in slices. So, they look at it like flipping through pictures in a picture book and they try to composite those images in 3D in their mind. This is a huge burden on them and requires a lot of training to do this. We take the images and put them in 3D so that they can view them organically. They can view them for diagnostics. They can view them for surgical planning and using augmented reality we can actually project those images on the patient so they can see them live during the procedure. So, they can see exactly where something like a tumor is without actually having to cut into you. This allows procedures to be much safer, much faster, and much much more effective.” Aris won Ignite the Night, and was invited to participate in NASA’s larger, more prestigious competition, the 2019 NASA iTech-Cycle I, which the company won two weeks ago.
“It was just mind-blowing,” Devam says of the NASA honor. “I could not be prouder of what we’ve done here.” The NASA competition started three years ago to find some of the best emerging private technology from across North America. NASA hopes to incorporate this new tech into its various research programs, including its goal of future space exploration.
It is hard for a small company to break into the medical field. The US market is especially difficult as it is unclear who pays for new technology and the training necessary to harness its powers. Nonetheless, with international pilots in the UK and the United States. Aris was able to raise $2M in seed capital from angel investors and has continued to make progress despite its small staff and modest funding. The NASA win put a rocket under the company, and has taken them to the heart of the aerospace industry, someplace they never thought they’d be.
“Our new friends and advisors immediately realized that Aris’ technology should work with industrial CT scanners,” explained Devam. “A technician can look inside a rocket engine on the launchpad without taking it apart.” Testing quickly revealed that Aris’ technology is indeed very effective. “People are calling it a breakthrough,” said Devam. “Because it is.”
Now that the word is starting to get out, Aris suddenly has new deal flow from every direction, not just the medical field. Aris is looking at licensing its technology for applications like inspecting infrastructure such as pipelines, construction, automotive, reactors, airplanes, and for structural integrity. “Pretty much anything that has been constructed, we could scan,” says Devam.
Still, says Devam, our hearts are in helping people. “As a business, we save our partners time and money, but in terms of patient care most of all what we’re doing is saving lives,” she said. “Handheld scanners can create a 3D environment in which a remote doctor can work on a real patient. We are just at the beginning of discovering what this technology can do to help humankind.”