The Butterfly Network is in the medical device sector, and the company has developed an ultrasound system on a semiconductor chip.
“It’s sort of like taking the world of medical imaging from the analog world of film into the digital camera world, into the digital age,” relates Sanchez. “And so what we’ve been able to do is make an imaging device for only $2,700. It can plug into your iPhone, and it can image anywhere in your body. It’s small enough to fit in your pocket but powerful enough to image anything.”
Sanchez and his team successfully tackled a problem it identified in the market, and the innovators aimed to bring a solution for that problem. The challenges were numerous.
He says, “It was a pretty enormous challenge that we put in front of us. We wanted to create a single chip that was capable of doing things that only a $150,000 ultrasound machine could do, with two images in three dimensions. And it needed to be power efficient and run on a battery. It needed to be small enough to fit in your pocket, and it needed to be affordable and manufacturable and something that we could scale up and sell hundreds of thousands of devices.”
As many small ventures find, the task at first seemed insurmountable. “It’s a pretty tall order that we put in front of us. Part of the reason I believe that we were very successful at this is we were sort of in a sense, we didn’t know any better. It’s like if you had asked someone who is an expert, could we do this? They might have said, no, it’s not possible. But we did it anyway.”
Building an innovation team with the right culture helped in terms of problem solving and product development.
Sanchez recalls, “Part of what allowed us to do what we did is we had a team of people that all had a few common traits. We were all intensely curious, intensely interested in learning and developing new ideas. We never let not knowing what to do or not knowing how to do something, get in the way of getting it done. We had a sort of confidence that we can solve any problem that comes at us, and we will have the drive to learn what it takes to solve the problem, and it was kind of essential in actually succeeding at this.”
Embracing the problem at hand, and being driven to find a solution, inspired Sanchez and his team. That motivation was key for the company to develop its imaging product. As many innovators find, it was stepping out of that comfort zone that inspired a solution.
“I think it’s definitely very important to care about the thing that you’re doing to a great degree. If you’re passionate about a problem, that kind of inspires you to think about it at all times in the day to really devote all of your energy to solving it. I think it’s also great if the problem presents in such a way that you have to learn new things, step outside your comfort zone to solve it, because that makes it incredibly exciting. There’s just sort of the human drive to want to continue to work on the problem because of that excitement,” he says.
Of course, ultimately it was different disciplines that were collaborating to develop this new technology.
“There were many issues to solve where we needed mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, analog and digital chip designers, process engineers,” says Sanchez. “There were semiconductor or silicon process engineers, deep learning scientists, imaging scientists, front end mobile engineers, cloud software engineers—just all of the disciplines that needed to come in to make this solution come together.”
He adds, “It was hugely exciting for me because I was the person that wanted to study everything. So this was just a fantastic problem to wrap my head around because of how many disciplines went into it and the opportunity to meet incredibly talented, smart people in all these different domains.”
So what’s next for the Butterfly Network? See the full video from FEI, where Adler and Sanchez continue the conversation, and touch on other innovation themes such as technology, AI, and more.