Alt-Bionics made waves back at the end of 2019 when the brand new startup attended the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) Technical Symposium. The company finished second behind 3BM’s infrared paint curing system, but Alt continued to make national and international headlines thanks to the strength of promising technology and a great history.
An article on the school’s website noted that at $ 700, his prosthetic hand was only a fraction of the cost of standard systems. Most of the following coverage focused on the story of the team’s journey from a good idea to a marketable product, with CEO / Co-Founder (and USTA Engineering Graduate) Ryan Saavedra noting that these types of products can range from $ 10,000 to $ 150,000 per pop. The company works at a price of around $ 3,500.
Meanwhile, the Alt-Bionics team has chronicled product development on social media. Before starting this roundup in earnest, we wanted to check with Saavedra how the past three years have gone and what the future holds for the company. And bonus: we have a few unreleased renderings that Alt’s ratings are “not indicative of our final product.” Just a simple festive rendering from our team gathered to announce the completion of our patent “- so take that however you like.
Why are prostheses too expensive?
I will start by saying that they are not expensive to manufacture and that they do not have to be that expensive for the user. At all. There is no single answer to this, but I’ll do my best to sum up the multiple reasons behind the sky-high prices surrounding bionic hands. We have found that there are two parts to the final price / cost of prosthetic devices. A third (but secondary reason) will also be discussed.
The manufacturer. The manufacturer develops and creates these bionic devices and then sells them to prosthetic and orthotics clinics (one of the few places where you can get equipped and buy these devices). The most affordable bionics prosthetic hand sold to P&O clinics starts at around $ 10,000 and can go up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Oddly enough, this cost does not always reflect the functionality or performance of the devices. These manufacturers ultimately determine the prices of their devices. The biggest of them cite overhead as the main reason they can’t lower their prices.
the prosthetic & orthotics clinic. We are still learning more about the details, but these clinics take care of the medical insurance. This means that they submit LCodes (insurance codes for bionic hands, suggested by the manufacturer) to the medical insurance company for reimbursement. These LCodes have floor and ceiling reimbursement amounts that the dental technician can select. The reimbursement amount is usually more than what they paid for the hand and covers the time and effort that the clinic and clinician spend on procurement, adjustment, testing, assembly and patient care. While normally a reasonable margin is achieved (through reimbursement amounts closer to the floor), we have seen reimbursement amounts exceeding $ 124,000 for a hand of $ 10,000 (from a 2018 patient receipt ).
Technological stagnation. Bionic hand technology has been stagnant for almost 15 years, with companies only now emerging as competitors in this space. Large companies in this space are tackling more than one area of transradial bionics (under the elbow) prosthetic devices. This means that their attention is not focused solely on aspects of upper limb development and affordability. prostheses. Stagnation means that there are no external factors or forces exerting on existing devices and their manufacturers. Basically, they have no reason to lower the prices, so they stay the same. It’s more of a claim that Reason # 1 is a bigger problem.
How has the medical community at large been received?
Awesome! Clinics, clinicians, patients, potential users and other competing companies have all incredibly supported our mission. Space and businesses, while competitive, all aim for the same thing: to use technological advances to provide people with a better quality of life.
There is obviously some skepticism at the beginning about how we can achieve our much lower price ($ 3,500), but it quickly subsides when we talk to them about our technologies and processes. We are currently discussing partnerships with prosthetic and orthotics clinics to help develop devices that not only help patients, but also reduce the burden on prosthetists in repairing and maintaining these devices.
Where is the project at? What is the current timeline for bringing it to market?
The project is just in its infancy and is approximately 42% complete. Here are some notable achievements:
- Successful proof of concept with Army Ranger, Ryan Davis. December 2019.
- Alt-Bionics was formed. May 2020.
- $ 42,000 SolidWorks grant from D’Assault Systems. July 2020.
- Provisional patent filed. June 2021.
- $ 50,000 investment from the City of San Antonio SAMMI Fund. July 2021.
The current timeline for bringing our device to market is one year from the close of our seed funding round. We have, to date, raised $ 142,000 from our goal of $ 200,000 and are looking to close this round by September.
What have been the biggest challenges so far?
Navigate the FDA regulatory space and raise capital. It’s no secret that the FDA’s regulatory process is a formidable beast. There are even companies dedicated to helping those looking to bring medical devices to market navigate the process and all of its intricacies. Alt-Bionics was recently accepted into a Biomedical Accelerator Program based in San Antonio, Texas, and will work with regulatory experts to ensure we have a smooth rest of the way to market. While our mission is noble and our business plan strong, COVID has raised many concerns and fears from investors. The inability to pitch in front of a live audience prevented us from appearing in front of investors and made raising capital a little more difficult than it normally is for a company like ours.
What is your funding status? How much have you collected so far and are you looking to collect more?
To date, Alt-Bionics has raised a total of $ 142,000 from a handful of investors and received a $ 50,000 investment from the City of San Antonio’s SAMMI fund. We are seeking an additional $ 58,000 from accredited investors to help us complete our start-up round. From there, our one-year schedule for commercialization begins (although we have a good head start) and Alt-Bionics will embark on its A-Series, which will allow us to recruit additional engineers, develop further technology and expand into international markets.
Will developing markets be a key target?
Developing countries will be a key market for Alt-Bionics, especially through NGOs, and will play an important role in our international expansion. We see a great opportunity to supply our medical devices to these markets. Affordability is central to our mission to provide access to these devices and therefore we believe we will be successful with this expansion.
And now back to your regular roundup.
I realize that when Berkshire Gray announced a “$ 23 +” deal for grocery picking robots, I had one name in mind: Walmart. After talking a bit about Walmart’s mixed robotics game in this panel a few weeks ago, I had heard rumors that the company was gearing up for a big new game in the category.
Granted, the Symbotic deal doesn’t necessarily mean BG doesn’t team up with Walmart on this one, but it’s worth noting that the mega-retailer likes to talk about its big spending on automation. From the outside, at least looking inside, it seems that these deals are often as much about the PR of appearance that he’s willing to compete with Amazon as it is about actual competition with Amazon (win-win , I suppose).
The deal will bring Symbotic’s technology to 25 more Walmart fulfillment centers (both have been running pilots since 2017) in a rollout that will take “several years,” according to Walmart. I have already speculated (and will happily continue to do so) that one or more of these robotic order fulfillment companies are an obvious acquisition for Walmart, although Symbotic is likely a little more difficult, given the existing ties to competitors like Target.
Berkshire Gray, meanwhile, continues to use the public road. The shareholders of Revolution Acceleration Acquisition Corp. (RAAC) are expected to vote on the SPAC deal on July 20. Soon to be acquired Fetch meanwhile announced an agreement with supply chain logistics company Korber for a new pallet robot designed to replace forklifts.
A couple of cool research projects this week. Devin wrote about a team from Facebook AI, UC Berkeley and Carnegie Mellon University exploring rapid motor adaptation, a method that allows quadrupedal robots to adapt to rough terrain at the fly. This quote from one of the Berkley researchers gets to the heart of the matter: “We don’t learn on the sand, we learn about sinking the feet.
During this time, I wrote about research at MIT’s CSAIL that involves the use of robotic arms to dress people. It’s a promising feature for robotics and senior care technology that could help people with mobility issues.