The Intersection of Health and Technology with Cory Kidd


Welcome to one more episode of Builder Nation, for today’s interview we have Doctor Cory Kidd, Founder and CEO of Catalia Health, a company that delivers patient engagement across a variety of chronic conditions. He is an expert in the robotics field and he is currently working on the intersection between health and technology.


Elisa Muñoz: How did you first get into robotics? I noticed that you have been in the healthcare industry for about 20 years now or so, right?

Cory Kidd: A long time. Yes. Yeah. So my career has been focused on the intersection of healthcare and technology, and really has been about, you know, how do we build things for patients to help better engage them in their own care, be able to scale healthcare, you know, particularly focused on people, dealing with chronic conditions. And one of the big challenges is simply having enough time from doctors and nurses and other clinicians. So how do we leverage technology to do that? And over the last 20 or twenty-five years, I've used a lot of different technologies. 

You know, whether it's a smartphone apps or a smart speakers that have now become quite common, you know, sensors that we might use in the home or another environment to tell something about a person or obviously robots and, you know, looking at different applications of these technologies to really help to again, engage patients and connect them in their care.

And we can talk about why we use a robot and many of our applications as opposed to these other technologies, but really got started, you know, deeply using robots. When I started my PhD work at the MIT media lab back in 2001. So it's been quite a while now, but that started that part of the work that I've been doing.

Elisa Muñoz: What do you think was the biggest complication at the early stage, whenever you were first creating the idea of the interaction with people, maybe creating the robot, maybe the speech, maybe the pronunciation of words…

Cory Kidd: Well, I think it's really a combination of those, right? If we go back 20 years, you know, there was no off the shelf robot that we could use. Right. So we had to build everything, the hardware, the software, you know, whether that's, you know, kind of the basics of the interaction, you know, using things like, you know, open source software to do computer vision, you know, open CV. Right. So, we could do things like seeing where the person is and the robot can look at them or orient towards them. You know, the speech recognition, the speech output right today, we kind of take these things for granted a couple decades, you know, after this.

But, you know, at that point, putting together things into a working system that you could expect to put in front of people, took a lot of work. You know, the culmination of my academic work was in 2007 when I finished my PhD. I did a randomized controlled trial where I actually built a bunch of robots and put them in patient's homes. Right. So this was no longer a laboratory setting. Right. We had to build something that would work well enough that we could leave it with someone for a month or two and expect it to function. And that was definitely one of the big challenges on the technology side is, you know, building the early versions of what has become something like this may be robot today. And, you know, actually getting it to work well enough to get some study data back to understand what's going on when people are using this on a day-to-day basis.

Elisa Muñoz: Are there any critical challenges in development that you faced when it comes to the procurement process? You know, at the beginning, whenever you were first building the first robot?

Cory Kidd: The hardware side, do you mean? You know, at the beginning though, the last couple of years with the pandemic, it's certainly gotten more challenging, right. Managing the logistics of, you know, getting all of the components, going through the manufacturing process. We have a contract manufacturer that we've worked with for a number of years in Southern China. And when we produce, you know, the one that I have in front of me now, our earlier version of this robot, it was fairly straightforward, typical manufacturing process, right. We do the design remotely early prototypes, and then we go spend time in the factory, right.

Debugging as we set up for mass production. And that can take a couple of weeks, right. As you solve all those last problems to get things set up for production, that same thing that would typically take a couple of weeks we've been working on for the last approximately seven months for the next version of this. Right. So just much more challenging when you can't physically go and be there with people to solve these problems, not to mention the supply chain issues. And I think we're all quite familiar with right now, you know, just sourcing some of the components that, you know, we'd already identified prior to the pandemic, you know, for us, we're not constantly iterating on the hardware. Right.

And new design of the hardware is something we do about every two to four years because it's mostly on the software and building the program side. But we had designed a new version of this just prior to the pandemic. Right. So all the components were identified and then once it was time to actually come into manufacturing last year, of course, very different world in terms of actually being able to, you know, source the appropriate quantities, you know, get reasonable prices, the logistics of getting those to the factory, the logistics of getting finished product out of the factory shallot. So yeah, a lot of complications recently.

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Elisa Muñoz: And what was the biggest technical challenge that you have ever solved?

Cory Kidd: I think that there's sort of an intersection of challenges, you know, for us, we're not selling a product, right. We don't sell these robots. We build them and sell a service, right? We sell care management programs. And so part of what that means is, you know, we're not selling this robot. We actually technically own all the robots that are out in our patients' homes. And so we try to keep this as a fairly low cost device, you know? So there's that intersection of, you know, trying to build something that's fairly low cost, but at the time, very robust, right. That it's going to stand up to not only the shipping. 

Elisa Muñoz: Totally. And where can people find it? I believe leads now in the market, right?

Cory Kidd: It is in the market. And so, you know, again, we don't sell directly to patients. One of the great things about this for patients is they never pay for these programs. And so what happens the most common way that a person gets this is they're prescribed a particular drug by their doctor. And most of the drugs that we work with are what are called specialty drugs. So these are not going to be the things that you're going to go down to your quarter retail store and pick up, but you're going to get a call from that specialty pharmacy, usually within the same day or so after it's prescribed.

Elisa Muñoz: Do you have any last advice for future engineers, people starting their companies starting their robotics company or people who just want to be an entrepreneur?

Cory Kidd: Well, you know, for people starting robotics companies, you know, I've been fortunate to be able to advise a number of other entrepreneurs as they're getting started. And I think really one of the key things to think about is, you know, what's the problem you're solving right? In this conversation. We've talked more about healthcare than about technology. And I think that's really important, right? If you're going to build a successful company, make sure you know what that problem is that you're trying to solve and make sure then that whatever technology that you're using to help support that solution is the right thing for doing that. 

And I think this is one of the challenges we've seen in robotics companies over the last 10 or 15 years is, you know, starting a quote unquote robotics company, as opposed to starting a company that solves a particular problem. I think this is, you know, Catalia's health is going on eight years old now, and this is the thing that has led us, you know, keep going, right. We're focused on solving very particular healthcare problems. Robotics happens to be an important part of the solution, but we don't think of ourselves as a robotics company. We're a healthcare company first and foremost. And yes, there's a lot of technology that supports that solution, but it's really about, you know, defining what is the problem and what is our solution to that problem.

Elisa Muñoz: Thank you as much Dr. Cory for taking the time and for sharing your experiences with us.

Cory Kidd: Thanks for having me. This was fun.

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