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The cocktail party problem: Why voice tech isn’t truly useful yet

By Ram Iyer
Ken Sutton Contributor
Ken Sutton is CEO and co-founder of Yobe, a software company that uses edge-based AI to unlock the potential of voice technologies for modern brands.

On average, men and women speak roughly 15,000 words per day. We call our friends and family, log into Zoom for meetings with our colleagues, discuss our days with our loved ones, or if you’re like me, you argue with the ref about a bad call they made in the playoffs.

Hospitality, travel, IoT and the auto industry are all on the cusp of leveling-up voice assistant adoption and the monetization of voice. The global voice and speech recognition market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 17.2% from 2019 to reach $26.8 billion by 2025, according to Meticulous Research. Companies like Amazon and Apple will accelerate this growth as they leverage ambient computing capabilities, which will continue to push voice interfaces forward as a primary interface.

As voice technologies become ubiquitous, companies are turning their focus to the value of the data latent in these new channels. Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Nuance is not just about achieving better NLP or voice assistant technology, it’s also about the trove of healthcare data that the conversational AI has collected.

Our voice technologies have not been engineered to confront the messiness of the real world or the cacophony of our actual lives.

Google has monetized every click of your mouse, and the same thing is now happening with voice. Advertisers have found that speak-through conversion rates are higher than click-through conversation rates. Brands need to begin developing voice strategies to reach customers — or risk being left behind.

Voice tech adoption was already on the rise, but with most of the world under lockdown protocol during the COVID-19 pandemic, adoption is set to skyrocket. Nearly 40% of internet users in the U.S. use smart speakers at least monthly in 2020, according to Insider Intelligence.

Yet, there are several fundamental technology barriers keeping us from reaching the full potential of the technology.

The steep climb to commercializing voice

By the end of 2020, worldwide shipments of wearable devices rose 27.2% to 153.5 million from a year earlier, but despite all the progress made in voice technologies and their integration in a plethora of end-user devices, they are still largely limited to simple tasks. That is finally starting to change as consumers demand more from these interactions, and voice becomes a more essential interface.

In 2018, in-car shoppers spent $230 billion to order food, coffee, groceries or items to pick up at a store. The auto industry is one of the earliest adopters of voice AI, but in order to really capture voice technology’s true potential, it needs to become a more seamless, truly hands-free experience. Ambient car noise still muddies the signal enough that it keeps users tethered to using their phones.

Whoop raises another $200M for its athlete-focused fitness wearable

By Brian Heater

Founded in 2012, Whoop is far from a household name in the world of fitness trackers. But over the years, the company has attracted its share of converts. It hasn’t had any issue attracting venture capital over the years, either. Last time we checked in on the Boston-based company was in late-2019, when it raised $55 million. Now it’s back with a massive $200 million raise.

The Series F round brings Whoop’s total funding to nearly $405 million — a pretty massive investment for a company of its size. The round, led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2, puts the valuation at a jaw-dropping $3.6 billion valuation.

Additional investors include IVP, Cavu Venture Partners, Thursday Ventures, GP Bullhound, Accomplice, NextView Ventures and Animal Capital. They join a long list of former backers, including the National Football League Players Association, Jack Dorsey and a number of professional athletes.

The company’s targeting of athletes marks a strong contrast with leading consumer wearables like the Apple Watch and Fitbit. In fact, the company has a specific offering for sports teams, as well as solutions for businesses, healthcare and government/defense.

Whoop’s name made the rounds recently when Fitbit announced a “Daily Readiness Score” for the Charge 5, which many likened to the company’s more advanced analytics.

The company cites “rapid growth” in its membership offering over the past year as a motivation behind seeking additional funding. That was likely driven, in part, by the decision in 2019 to make the $500 wearable free, while focusing on a subscription service that starts at $18 a month for an 18-month membership (the shorter the membership, the more the monthly fee).

Whoop is eying international expansion beyond the U.S. and using the massive influx of cash on R&D for its hardware, software and analytics solutions. Money will also go toward expanding headcount, which is currently in excess of 500 (with nearly half of those employees having joined in the past year).

“We are thrilled to deepen our partnership with SoftBank as we grow internationally,” founder and CEO Will Ahmed said in a release. “While we have experienced amazing growth in the past year, the potential of our technology and the vast market for health monitoring remains largely untapped.”

Fitbit adds ECG and stress-level scanning to its Charge fitness tracker

By Brian Heater

Fitness band market share is undoubtedly contracting, thanks in no small part to the massive popularity of smartwatches. But 13.1 million overall shipments in Q1 2021 is nothing to sneeze at. People are still buying non-watch fitness trackers, due to their lower price and non-invasiveness.

Announced this morning via the Google Keyword blog, the latest version of Fitbit’s Charge line looks to further blur the line line between the categories. The latest version of the premium fitness band adds a color touchscreen, along with ECG (heart) and EDA (stress) sensors.

Naturally those sorts of smartwatch-level features also come with a $30 price increase, up to $180 — putting it at the same price point as 2019’s Versa 2 and $50 less than the Versa 3. Like I said, the lines have blurred. Fitbit also offers a number of cheaper trackers, including the $100 Inspire 2, though the company is well aware that it can’t really compete on the super low end of the market.

The addition of ECG monitoring brings a feature to the band that has largely been the realm of pricier smartwatches. It’s been popular with both users and doctors, who often recommend it for day to day monitoring of conditions like a-fib. That’s in addition to heart rate monitoring, which can be used around the clock, courtesy of a battery that’s rated at a full week (though the always-on option for the full-color AMOLED touchscreen will undoubtedly eat into that).

Still photography of Fitbit Charge 5. Image Credits: Fitbit

EDA monitoring, which Fitbit first offered on the Sense last fall, is designed to detect a wearer’s stress levels by way of their finger sweat glands. That’s coupled with a “Stress Management Score” available through the Fitbit app, “so you can see each morning if you’re mentally ready to take on more challenges, or if you need to recharge.” The idea of viewing my own stress numbers over the past year is likely enough to drive them up even higher.

All of that feeds into the larger Health Metrics dashboard, which the company is setting up as a kind of one-stop shop that also includes sleep and standard fitness. The Charge also offers integration with third-party mindfulness apps like Ten Percent Happier and Calm, the latter of which is a part of a new partnership that brings the wildly popular meditation app’s content to Fitbit Premium members.

Premium also gets a new feature called Daily Readiness Score, which Fitbit describes thusly:

Coming soon to Premium is our new Daily Readiness Score, which will use insights from your body via your Fitbit device, including your activity, heart rate variability (HRV) and recent sleep, to help you assess when you’re ready to push yourself physically — in other words, if you should workout or prioritize recovery. By wearing your Fitbit device daily (including while you sleep), you’ll receive a personalized score each morning along with details on what impacted it, with suggestions like a recommended activity level and Premium content to help you make the best decisions for your body and make your workouts more efficient.

Oh, and here’s a picture of Fitbit’s new brand ambassador, for good measure. Looks familiar:

Image Credits: Fitbit

The Charge 5 is the first major release since Fitbit officially became a part of Google. We haven’t seen a lot of major changes yet (though CEO James Park is now officially “VP, GM & Co-founder,” per his billing). Expect to see something more significant on that front when the company unveils its next smartwatch.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic: A well-rounded smartwatch

By Brian Heater

For smartwatches, it’s Apple against the world. Per recent numbers from CounterPoint, the Apple Watch commanded more than one-third of global shipments in Q1. Samsung/Tizen’s own market share is a distant — but respectable — second place, with 8%. With Google’s Wear OS at fifth place at just under 4%, it’s easy to see both companies — utterly dominant in other categories — are itching for competitive advantages.

For Google, the answer is two-fold. First, the Fitbit acquisition effectively doubles its existing market. Convincing Samsung to return to Wear OS after a long time in the Tizen woods. For Samsung, a return to the Google operating system made sense from the standpoint of developer access — and the resulting apps. And hey, if it means Google gets to deal with the underlying support issues, that’s all the better.

From a pure market share standpoint, Samsung has the clear upper hand here. And while building out its own version of Tizen hasn’t necessarily caught the world on fire, it has helped the electronic giant secure a solid second place. Clearly if the company was going to return to Google, it would need to do so on its own terms.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Following an announcement at Google I/O that the two companies were once again working together in the smartwatch category, Samsung finally unveiled the first fruit of that labor last week, in the form of the Galaxy Watch 4. The new wearable, available in both the standard and Classic form, runs “Wear OS Powered by Samsung.” What that means in practical terms is that Samsung worked closely with Google to build out a customized version of Wear OS — one that, effectively, looks, swims and quacks like Tizen.

It’s an effort to make a leap to a robust — if struggling — wearable OS ecosystem, without losing the familiarity of the experience Samsung spent years building out. And honestly, I’m here for it. The Samsung/Google team-up has done a fine job determining what works about their respective ecosystems and building out an experience that pulls from the best of both. It’s an ideal situation for Google, certainly, and one the company would no doubt benefit from by recruiting other big hardware makers — though none has anywhere near Samsung’s momentum in the category.

That’s coupled with several generations of hardware iteration and health improvements that go a long way toward making the Galaxy Watch 4 one of the few smartwatches that can truly go head to head with Apple. And like Apple, the new wearable is explicitly tied to the Samsung ecosystem — after all, even the other week was nothing if not an ecosystem play.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The new Galaxy Buds are arguably the best earbuds for a Samsung user, and the same can be said for the company’s solid new smartwatch. As much as the company is opening things up to third parties by way of Wear OS (fewer than Apple, but a step in the right direction), this is still decidedly a Samsung smartwatch that works best with first-party Samsung apps on Samsung’s mobile hardware. It’s the sort of gamble you can take when you’re the No. 1 smartphone maker in the world. Let the Huaweis, Garmins and Fitbits fight for the rest of the non-iOS market.

As with its smartphones and earbuds, the Galaxy Watch line hasn’t always been the most straightforward, in terms of how things break down. The company has flirted with different models and SKUs over the years, but I think it’s finally hit on a setup that makes sense. Effectively, the lower-end, haptic bezeled Galaxy Watch Active is now the standard Galaxy Watch, and the standard Galaxy Watch is now the Galaxy Watch Classic.

Now that I’ve typed that, I recognize that it’s not as straightforward as it sounded in my head. Basically it breaks down thusly: Galaxy Watch 4 = thinner, lighter, sportier. Galaxy Watch 4 Classic is a bit classier looking, trading the digital bezel for Samsung’s trademark rotating hardware bezel.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

I’ve said it before and I’ll say again: The spinning bezel is Samsung’s ace in the hole. It’s the place where the company unequivocally has Apple beat in the smartwatch category. Apple’s crown is fine, but the bezel is currently the best way to navigate a smartwatch interface. I was, frankly, baffled when the company ditched it for the Galaxy Watch 2 in favor of a digital version. The company clearly thought better of it, bringing it back for the 3.

If you read my earlier review, you know my biggest sticking point with earlier Samsung watches was size. The things were giant. I’m not a small man, nor do I possess an abnormally small wrist, but even I had issues walking around with them on. Some people like big, clunky watches, but only making these devices available in the one size is severely limiting your potential audience right out of the gate.

Thankfully, you’ve got a number of choices here. The Galaxy Watch is available in 40mm and 44mm versions ($250 and $300, respectively), while the Classic comes in 42mm and 46mm ($350 and $380, respectively). You’re already talking about a pretty sizable premium for what mostly amounts to design differences. Add LTE onto the classic and you’re talking $379 and $429. Of course, that still compares favorably to the Apple Watch Series 6’s $399 starting price.

I opted to go somewhere in the middle, with the 42mm Galaxy Watch Classic. Having worn the device for several days now, I’m feeling pretty good about the choice. Given the design, I’m fairly certain the 46mm would have been too much watch for my day to day use. And certainly it would have been too large to attempt to sleep in.

I’m still curious how the 44mm version of the standard Watch would have fit, but if you’ve got the choice of rotating bezel, go for rotating bezel. A 40mm version of the Classic would be a nice option for users with smaller wrists looking for that functionality, but Samsung’s heading in the right direction here, with four distinct sizes.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Like much of the competition, Samsung is leading with health offerings here. I’ve been trying to up my exercise game, a year and half into the pandemic, and the watch does a solid job with workout detection. It’s about on par with the Apple Watch, in terms of auto detecting walks and runs. I’ve gotten into the rowing machine at the gym of late, and it does a solid job there, as well. It understandably is considerably more difficult with my morning HIIT routines, and yoga was a wash, so you’re best starting those manually, unless you’re using one of the company’s connected routines.

There’s an ECG on-board to detect heart irregularities. It’s a quickly standardizing tool that many medical professionals have begun to recommend for detecting early heart issues. Body Composition is a standout new feature here that offers key health metrics like skeletal muscle, body water, metabolic rate and body fat percentage by placing two fingers on the device.

Sleep tracking offers solid insight, including blood oxygen, light/deep/rem and total sleep score (hint, mine is low). If you’re able/willing to sleep with your phone near you, the app will also let you know how much time you’ve been snoring during the night. Taken together, the numbers can offer some good, actionable insight into your sleeping patterns.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Of course, wearing a watch to sleep is not only a matter of comfort — it’s also a matter of battery life. The life on the Watch Classic is okay — I was able to go a day and a half of standard to light usage. That’s enough to do fitness and sleep tracking, assuming you can find some time in the morning or around lunch to charge it up again. Perfectly acceptable for most usage, but not really anything to write home about.

All of these elements add up to a solid smartwatch experience. The Galaxy Watch 4 is the best smartwatch for Samsung users, and there’s a strong case to be made for it being the best Android-compatible smartwatch, period.

 

Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review: Getting out of their own way

By Brian Heater

Earlier this year, Nothing launched the Ear (1) with a grand idea: earbuds as fashion accessories. Sure, the company talked a lot about the non-invasiveness of transparent design, but at the end of the day, the product’s launch on StockX betrayed a focus on the fashion forward.

In that respect, Samsung’s new Galaxy Buds 2 are the anti-Nothing. They’re almost aggressively unassuming in their approach. It’s in keeping with previous generations of Buds, but still in stark — and refreshing — contrast for a company that prides itself on creating some of the world’s most ostentatious smartphones. Look no further than the two (!) new foldables launched along with the headphones at the Unpacked event.

Samsung’s almost casual approach to its headphones is something of a mixed blessing. The company could certainly be clearer with the branding of what seems to be an ever-shifting lineup of models. I asked for clarification of how things break down ahead of this week’s launch, and the company responded thusly:

As our premium offering, the Galaxy Buds Pro leverage cutting-edge technology to deliver immersive audio, intelligent Active noise cancelling, and effortless connectivity. For those looking to show off their unique style, the Galaxy Buds Live combine high quality sound with an eye-catching design.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

So, the short answer is there are three versions of Galaxy Buds on the market: Buds 2, Buds Pro and Buds Live. The above quote should confirm any suspicion you may have had that the new $149 version of the entry-level Buds make the $170 Buds Live Buds more or less redundant. Barring some major upgrade, they’re probably not long for this world, leaving a clearer two-level offering of the Buds 2 and the higher-end Buds Pro.

I’ve mentioned this before — the world of wireless earbuds were quick to reach a consensus of “pretty good.” Frankly, you’d have to go out of your way to find a bad pair for over $100. And for many or most intents and purposes, I’m inclined to recommend people go with a pair made by the company that made their phone. There’s a definite market advantage in having direct access to a device’s hardware and software.

That, of course, is a decided advantage for a company with as massive a global market share as Samsung. And the Galaxy Buds 2 are the epitome of “pretty good” in the pretty good way. They’re not flashy, and with a design that’s 15% smaller and 20% lighter than the already compact original Galaxy Buds, they’re designed to practically disappear, with minimal surface area exposed.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The size and shape makes for an extremely comfortable pair of buds. I’m not sure why I’m blessed with the gift of ear pain with roughly half of the earbuds I try out, but these are ergonomic and designed for the long haul. There’s enough surface area to access the touch control on the exposed side. The biggest downside to the small size is there’s really no way to adjust them in your ear without accidentally triggering that touch. That became a nuisance when I constantly found myself adjusting them to deal with sweaty ears during a run — a bad time to have to worry about dealing with music controls.

The sound is solid, courtesy of Samsung subsidiary AKG. Not exceptional, but pretty much exactly what you need/want out of a pair of $149 buds. I was impressed with the active noise canceling, as well. A perfectly good, totally unexceptional experience — utilitarian, really. Again: in a good way. If better sound is a must, the Pros are an easy upgrade — or else, there’s Nura’s new buds or Sony’s, depending on how lavish you want get. The Buds Pro also bring features like 360 Audio — which is likely only a make-or-break for an exceedingly small number of potential buyers.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Wireless charging for the case is a welcome touch, which along with ANC, catapults them above a number of other entry-level pairs. The battery is rated five hours with ANC and 7.5 with it off. The glassy little case bumps that up to a respectable 20 hours. The IPX2 water resistance, meanwhile, is good for sweat, but otherwise can be added to the list of things the company can improve next around.

All in all, it’s a pretty short list, however. The Galaxy Buds 2 are solid, unassuming and an easy addition for those in the Samsung Galaxy ecosystem.

https://www.wired.com/story/samsung-galaxy-unpacked-august-2021/

 

Samsung brings active noise cancellation to its entry-level Galaxy Buds

By Brian Heater

In what has quickly become the busiest Unpacked of the virtual era, Samsung just dropped a new version of its wireless earbuds. The Galaxy Buds 2 add active noise canceling to the entry-level model, while retaining the $149 price point.

For those keeping track, the current Galaxy Buds offerings are Buds 2 ($149), Buds Live ($170) and Buds Pro ($200). The addition pretty clearly blurs the line between the first two. Asked for clarification on how the offerings now shake out, Samsung tells TechCrunch:

As our premium offering, the Galaxy Buds Pro leverage cutting-edge technology to deliver immersive audio, intelligent Active noise cancelling, and effortless connectivity. For those looking to show off their unique style, the Galaxy Buds Live combine high quality sound with an eye-catching design.

So, design and sound are the differentiators. The Buds Live were, of course, introduced during a time when ANC was more of an exception than a rule for nonpremium-priced earbuds, so I wouldn’t be too surprised to see them start to be phased out.

As I’ve said in the past, Samsung’s earbuds have always been quietly solid. They don’t get the love of Apple or Sony in that department, but the company has consistently produced solid buds, and I don’t see any reason to expect these will be any different. Of course, the Pros still sit at the high end, in terms of sound quality, 360 audio, etc.

Samsung says the new Buds are their smallest and lightest to date. Indeed, the Buds, the case and everything are quite compact (and surprisingly glossy!). They retain the familiar ovular shape that sits up against the wearer’s ear. They’re built specifically to pair with the company’s mobile devices, but you should be able to connect them to any Bluetooth device.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Like the rest of today’s devices, the Buds 2 are now up for preorder and start shipping on August 26. Look for a review in the not too distant future.

Samsung returns to Wear OS with the Galaxy Watch 4

By Brian Heater

Samsung’s watches have long been something of an anomaly. While the company embraced Wear OS (then Android Wear) in its earliest days with the massive Gear Live, the company quickly shifted to Tizen, an open-source operating system largely used by Samsung for wearables and smart TVs.

That’s no doubt been a kind of bugbear for Google, which has long struggled to crack a significant portion of the smartwatch market. Samsung, meanwhile, has had its share of success with its products while doing its own thing. But there’s always more market share to be grabbed.

Third-party apps have long been an issue for basically every smartwatch maker but Apple (it’s the main reason Fitbit bought Pebble, if you’ll recall), and clearly Samsung saw the opportunity in reigniting its partnership with Google. The deal — first mentioned at I/O and discussed more recently at MWC — is now seeing the light of day on the brand new Galaxy Watch 4 and Galaxy Watch 4 Classic.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The companies refer to it as “the new Wear OS Powered by Samsung.” What that means, practically, is that Wear OS serves as the code base. Design and other elements of Tizen exist in here, but for all practical intents and purposes, it’s a custom built version of Google’s wearable operating system, which Samsung helped build out.

The company will stress that latter bit as an important bit of clarification — that it didn’t just slap a new coat of paint on the OS here. The company’s One UI Watch sits atop all of that, in a bid to create a unified user experience across Samsung’s mobile devices and wearable line.

Per a release:

Galaxy Watch 4 Series is also the first generation of smartwatches to feature Wear OS Powered by Samsung — a new platform that elevates every aspect of the smartwatch experience. Built by Samsung and Google, this cutting-edge platform lets you tap into an expansive ecosystem right from your wrist — with popular Google apps like Google Maps, and beloved Galaxy services, like Samsung Pay, SmartThings and Bixby. The new platform also includes support for leading third-party apps, like Adidas Running, Calm, Strava and Spotify.

In a blog post this morning, Google breaks down its end of the partnership thusly,

We’re taking what we’ve learned from Wear OS and Tizen to jointly build what smartwatch users need. Compared to previous Wear OS smartwatches, the Galaxy Watch4 features a 2.5x shorter set up experience, up to 40 hours of battery life, optimized performance with app launch times 30 percent faster than before and access to a huge ecosystem of apps and services.

And there are more ways to get more done from your wrist with Wear OS. We’re introducing more capabilities and a fresh new look based on Material You design language for Google Maps, Messages by Google and Google Pay apps as well as launching a YouTube Music app. There are also new apps and Tiles coming to Wear OS for quicker access to your favorites.

The software giant singles out turn-by-turn directions on Google Maps, the ability to download and listen to songs on YouTube Music and improved app discovery via Google Play. The news also finds Google Pay on Wear OS coming to 16 additional countries, including Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Slovakia, Sweden, Taiwan, Ukraine and United Arab Emirates.

The other key focus on the line continues to be health — it’s the field on which all smartwatches are currently competing. The monitoring is built around a smaller version of the company’s BioActive Sensor, which measures optical heart rate, electrical heart (ECG) and Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis. The trio of sensors measure a bunch of different metrics, including blood pressure, AFib monitoring, blood oxygen and now body composition/BMI. So now, for better or worse, your watch will tell you your body fat percentage [post-pandemic grimace face emoji]. Says Samsung, “In about 15 seconds, your watch’s sensor will capture 2,400 data points.”

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Design is the primary distinction between the two models. The Galaxy Watch 4 is the thinner and lighter of the two — more in line with the Galaxy Watch Active. It sports a touch bezel, versus the Classic’s physical spinning bezel — arguably Samsung’s best innovation in the category.

Also, of note: Both models come in two sizes. That’s always been a bit of a sticking point for me on Samsung Watches. If your devices are large and only come in the one size, you’re essentially knocking out a sizable portion of your customer base right off the bat. The Watch 4 comes in 40mm and 44mm and the Classic is available in 42mm and 46mm. The models start at $250 and $350, respectively. Another $50 will get you LTE connectivity.

The watches go up for preorder today and start shipping on August 26. Preordering will get you a $50 Samsung Credit. The company is also launching a limited-edition Thom Browne version of the Classic in September, which will almost certainly cost an arm and/or leg.

Watch Samsung introduce its latest foldables live

By Brian Heater

Samsung is set to introduce a whole bunch of new products, starting today at 7 AM PT/10 AM ET. I wrote a whole bunch of words about what to expect from the company’s latest Unpacked event. It’s a long list and a kind of return to the pre-pandemic days, back before companies started taking liberties by holding separate events for all their new products.

You can stream the proceedings here:

Here’s the short bulleted version, based on a deluge of leaks over the past several weeks and months:

  • Galaxy Z Fold 3
  • Galaxy Z Flip 3
  • Galaxy Watch 4
  • Galaxy Buds 2

Samsung has more or less confirmed the first three already. The company gave some substantial details on its forthcoming foldables. We’ve also heard a good deal about the new smartwatch — from a software standpoint, at least. Both Samsung and Google have been discussing their upcoming joint software platform.

More info on all of the above, soon. And perhaps even a surprise or two? Perhaps. We’ll be following along with the latest.

Exo secures $200M toward commercializing ultrasound device

By Christine Hall

Exo, pronounced “echo,” raised a fresh cash infusion of $220 million in Series C financing aimed at commercializing its handheld ultrasound device and point-of-care workflow platform, Exo Works.

The round was led by RA Capital Management, while BlackRock, Sands Capital, Avidity Partners, Pura Vida Investments and prior investors joined in.

The new funding gives the Redwood City, California-based company over $320 million in total investments since the company was founded in 2015, Exo CEO Sandeep Akkaraju told TechCrunch. This includes a $40 million investment raised in 2020.

Ultrasound machines can cost anywhere from $40,000 to $250,000 for low-end technology and into the millions for high-end machines. Meanwhile, Exo’s device will be around the cost of a laptop.

“It is clear to us that ultrasound is the future — it is nonradiating and has no harmful side effects,” Akkaraju said. “We want to take the technology and put it in the palms of physicians. We also want to bring it down to the patient level. The beauty of having this window into the body is you can immediately see things.”

Using a combination of artificial intelligence, medical imaging and silicon technology, the device enables users to use it in a number of real-world medical environments like evaluating cardiology patients or scanning lungs of a COVID-19 patient. It can also be used by patients at home to provide real-time insight following a surgical procedure or to monitor a certain condition.

Exo then adds in its Exo Works, the workflow platform, that streamlines exam review, documentation and billing in under one minute.

Akkaraju said the immediate focus of the company is commercializing the device, which is where most of the new funding will go. He intends to also build out its informatics platform that is being piloted across the country and to ramp up both production and its sales force.

The global point-of-care ultrasound market is expected to reach $3.1 billion by 2025 and will grow 5% annually over that period. In addition to physicians, Akkaraju is hearing from other hospital workers that they, too, want to use the ultrasound device for some of their daily tasks like finding the right vein for an IV.

Once the company’s device is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Exo will move forward with its plan to bring the handheld ultrasound device to market.

Zach Scheiner, principal with RA Capital Management, said he met the Exo team in 2020 and RA made its first investment in the Series B extension later that year.

He was “immediately compelled” by the technology and the opportunity to scale. Scheiner also got to know Akkaraju over the months as well as saw how Exo’s technology was improving.

“We are seeing an expanding opportunity in healthcare technology as it improves and costs go down,” he added. “The vision Sandeep has of democratizing the ultrasound is not a vision that was possible 15 or 20 years ago. We are seeing the market in its early stage, but we also recognize the potential. Every doctor should want one to see what they were not able to see before. As technology and biology improves, we are going to see this sector grow.”

 

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