IWalk Before You Run: MIT Prosthetics Startup Ramps Up Operations With New VC Money
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technical approach to other joints in the body—the hip, knee, elbow, and so forth—and also eventually develop “exoskeleton” devices (sort of like powered braces) that non-amputees could wear on their arms or legs to combat muscle weakness or augment their normal abilities. As McCarthy puts it, “The mission of the company is to restore normal function to people with limb pathology using robotics.”
But the specific focus now is on getting the prosthetic foot right, he says. That means delivering a small number of devices to a few organizations—mostly military hospitals and other clinics—and giving each unit, and patient, the attention they need. That should enable iWalk to fix any problems as they arise and to streamline its manufacturing process.
“We’re not going to sell 1,000 units to 1,000 customers,” McCarthy says. “We’ll sell a few hundred units to a few customers. We’ll begin building them in very small lots and hand delivering each unit. The hope is by the fourth or fifth lot, we’re stamping out Toyota Camrys.”
It’s hard to pin down exactly how much one of these devices will cost. McCarthy says iWalk’s customers will take advantage of existing healthcare reimbursement policies, and that the price will be “right in line with existing high-tech prosthetic devices.” (State of the art devices usually run in the tens of thousands of dollars for the payer.)
But it’s also hard to put a price on the quality of life that iWalk is selling. If all goes well, the company’s technology could profoundly impact the lives of thousands of people. Indeed, compared with existing prosthetics, McCarthy says—and as Herr can attest to personally—the PowerFoot lets amputees “walk further, faster, with less pain.” And that sounds like a definite step in the right direction.
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