Pill-sized robots to replace endoscopies with Torrey Smith


Torrey Smith is the Co-Founder & CEO of Endiatx, a medical robotics company that manufactures pill-sized robots capable of exploring and performing work inside the body. 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.


Elisa Muñoz: Hey guys, and welcome to Builder Nation. For today's agenda we have Torrey Smith with us, the founder and CEO of Endiatx, a medical robotics company that manufactures pill size robots, capable of doing exploration inside the body, which is amazing. So welcome. 

Torrey Smith: Oh, we're super happy to be here. And you know, a lot of people say, you know, “Torrey, that's, that's kind of a scary big pill. How am I supposed to swallow that?” And all I can say is, you know, folks like: “We are working hard to make these as small as we can.” You know, our first, our first prototypes were just Arduino, raspberry pie stuff, but we started getting smaller and, you know, we finally got down to sizes that we could put through our own bodies. And basically we just love making robots. We love making robot pills. We love driving them around inside our stomachs, like a, like a video game.

And we think that we might be onto something, you know, for the world of medicine. So, we're very excited to be here.

Elisa Muñoz: That's huge. That was the first one you ever made.

Torrey Smith: If you see in the back, you can see it has four little propellers and, you know, the robots swims much in the same way as a quad copter, a drone would fly. And that gave us the ability to do very amazing things in three dimensions. And so, even though this is not a medical device, it's not ready. You know, this is, this is not our dream. It's the first step to our dream. You know, we actually raised a little bit of money with that just by demonstrating to people in our community that, Hey, we're serious. We're willing to go full-time on this. We're willing to get up on stages and pitch the company idea.

And you know, I think people started to really get excited when we started to build real things. So if you're out there and you have an idea, don't wait so many years, like I waited, ask your friends for help. You don't have to know everything and just start building what you can build to show the people around you that you're serious. And then people will be attracted to that.

Elisa Muñoz: How do you come up with this idea? I know that you went to school for aerospace engineering, if I'm correct. 

Torrey Smith: So the thing about thinking about the idea of the dream of, you know, tiny robot surgeons inside your human body. We call it micro robotics inside the human body, but we did not invent this concept, right? I mean, as a kid, I would see it in science fiction, movies, movies, like the fantastic voyage or inner space where like the matrix where those evil robot bugs crawl into Neo's body, through his belly button, you read about things like nanotechnology, you read about things like, imagine if you had microscope like molecular size robots in your bloodstream that could swarm a tumor and just make it vantage before your eyes.

None of that is my idea. What Endiatx is really about is just saying, “Hey, we keep talking about it, let's do it right. Let's make it real”.  And that's why I see our current, our currently this robot, you know, it's got four little thrusters. You could, you can see the little propellers and Stater veins. And you know, this is like $35 us of parts I'm holding in my hand. Right. We have a little USB dongle. I don't know if that's like 15 bucks, or something like that, honestly, I think in high volume, we can make this for like $25 us. It's, it's, it's a cheap little robot.

And I think that it represents the first step in a very long and exciting journey where, you know,  if you're not feeling so good, maybe you don't even have to go to the hospital.. Maybe the hospital can come to you in the form of a pill and you just get on a zoom call with your doctor. Right. You know, and then maybe if that works well, maybe we can start putting tools on it and start going beyond just looking around so that that's kind of the plan.

Elisa Muñoz: Wow. And I was wondering, how do you get the video transmission? I know that you use, like the controls, but how do you like to connect the actual video to the computer?

Torrey Smith: This is a great opportunity for me to show you some really low quality video. Let me just take you under the hood. And I'm going to show you what we actually have right now, because what we have right now is real. It's finally real. We're so excited. And, by being real, it's also imperfect right? Every week, every day, we're working on making it better. But let me show you a live view from a few weeks ago inside my own stomach. 

Elisa Muñoz: Talking about the technology of the pill, how does it move around? I know that it has like four motors at the back.

Torrey Smith: Yeah, here we are in solid work. And what you see is a shell and you can see these little motors and propellers. Actually, it's very simple. It's just like a quad-copter right. That's basically exactly what this is. And we're always playing around with different configurations. For example, we just started playing with another one that we call a try motor. Let's have a look at this one here. You can see we've got like a little vertical thruster and two horizontal thrusters.

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Elisa Muñoz: And what, what will you say? It will be your ideal customer, maybe hospitals or private clinics?.

Torrey Smith: Sure. That's a very good question. We're interested in speaking with any gastroenterologist, right? So anyone who's sliding tubes into the digestive tract to look for problems and fix those problems is someone we want to speak with. And so you have a socialized healthcare system like in Europe or, or say like Canada's got a really good example of that.

 I think systems like that will be very excited about this technology because the payout per, per patient can go way down. I think that we can screen for illnesses much, much cheaper and much more universally available then is the current status quo. So it's, it's really good. I think for socialized medicine, for single payer healthcare systems where you have like, HMO's like Kaiser, I think Kaiser would probably tend to like this. One of the most interesting points of feedback we got was from the world of the private gastroenterologist who will tell you that GI doctors, I think we're, we're working with them very intimately because they basically said, this is amazing and this is disruptive.

 And it actually disrupts the current way that patients would flow through that health care system. And so we're just trying to work with all the stakeholders because the bottom line is doctors want to treat patients, that's why they became doctors.

Elisa Muñoz: And about the procurement process. I wanted to ask you, how hard it has been for you to find pieces when it comes to the procurement process?Finding these parts in order to build that robot, How hard has it been?

Torrey Smith: We're starting to reach out to manufacturers of motors because it turns out the motors that we've found the smallest motors that we found are still much bigger than we actually need. Right. So  we do want to move towards more and more custom, but at the same time, I really value the concept of making something that's inexpensive. That's going to really change a patient's cost. Right. And so, like, there's a, there's a, an instinct to over-engineer everything. And for us, I think we want to be careful there because our first product is not going to do everything in the GI tract.

 It's going to be targeting a few very specific things like, can it, can it see an ulcer in your stomach? Could I see a big red spot, right? Can it see a bleed? Can it see a big lump of scar tissue. An obvious tumor, those indications for use are things that we should be able to be relevant for or relevant to in just a few months. And so I'd rather let's get a cheap version of this technology to market treating actual patients, and then let's continue the evolutionary process to, to really go siphon. I don't want to lose focus and, and, and spend years and many millions of dollars developing something that's too advanced. Let's just take this first step together.

Elisa Muñoz: And I think actually investors value that because they see that you're actually working on it, you know? So how hard has it been for you to get the first investors, to get the first people interested in?

Torrey Smith: Well, it's pretty funny, you know? Like, I have a spreadsheet with more than 300 venture capital funds on it. Right. And I have hundreds and hundreds of rejections right. To date. I think it's five venture capital funds that funded us, which we're very proud of. You know, we're very excited about that. And several dozen angel investors that really came in at the beginning and said, we believe in you, that's why they call them angels, I think is because without angels like that, that technology, like this could not exist. But yeah, the fundraising hit rate for antibiotics is something on the order of about 1%, which is pretty typical. I, if you're a founder and you want to launch a company, get ready to pitch 100 times to get one check. 

 And that just means you need to really believe in what you're doing. What you're doing really needs to be something that's going to move this world forward.

Elisa Muñoz: Once again, Thank you Torrey for taking the time and for sharing everything, all of your knowledge, all of your experiences with us.

Torrey Smith: It's been a pleasure, Elisa. Thank you so much.

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