Endoscopies rely on a physician's steady hands operating a long camera as it's manually fed into, and manipulated within, a patient's body. Co-founder Fred Moll and his team at Redwood City, California-based Auris Health spent six years building the Monarch Platform, a robotic system that helps doctors navigate the twists and turns in your lungs. In March, Auris won FDA clearance to use it to screen for lung cancer, which kills 1.7 million people worldwide each year. This medical detective can scope out other organs as well.

  • $500 million: Amount of funding Auris has received since its 2009 founding
  • $500K: Projected price of a Monarch Platform system (that may sound expensive, but it's less than the $1.5 million average price tag of the current generation of surgical robots)
  • 18 percent: five-year survival rate for those with lung cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute

The Procedure

The bendable bronchoscope, which contains a tiny camera, navigates the small tubes in a patient's lungs. When it arrives at the desired location, a needle extracts a tissue sample. Auris sees lung cancer as the beginning, since the bronchoscope can be swapped out for other cameras used to look for a variety of ailments. The startup has already performed test runs of gastrology and urology exams.

Space Invader

Monarch's edge over humans is precision. "To position anything in 3-D space, you need six degrees of freedom: x, y, z, roll, pitch, and yaw," says David Noonan, Auris's director of systems, algorithms, and robotics. "If you add a seventh, as we did, your robot becomes redundant, meaning you can reach any given position in six degrees of freedom--and from multiple locations." 

Cutting Edge

The other robotics business Moll co-founded, Intuitive Surgical, with a market value of $50 billion, makes the da Vinci system, the world's best-selling surgical robot. It assists doctors with surgeries made through tiny incisions.

Room Service

A touchscreen guides the nursing staff through the setup while, on a separate screen, the physician looks inside the patient's lungs and at a 3-D map that logs the instrument's location. The system's arms fold into its base, and the contraption can be easily wheeled from room to room within a hospital. Moll believes better screening can improve survival rates, but the company hopes that eventually the Monarch will be used not just for diagnosis but for treatment as well. Ultimately, the entire procedure could be automated.

Dr. Xbox

The physician directs the procedure with a remote that looks a lot like an Xbox controller. Auris went through more than 20 iterations, most of them much more complex, before deciding on the video-game-inspired design. The remote contains accelerometers that automatically halt the procedure if it's dropped. And, yes, there's a pause button.

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From the July/August 2018 issue of Inc. Magazine