During the presentation, a couple of “independent” radiologists praised the work Nanox did. They commented on both the speed and accuracy of the images taken, especially when examining a 3D image of a chest x-ray. The couple said that the larger number of tubes – Nanox Arc has six independent X-ray tubes that can be used in different amplitudes – can make it easier to detect small lesions and tumors.
These tubes are the source of Nanox innovation; 10-centimeter cylinders using “cold cathode”
The story of Nanox begins in the wreck of Sony’s doomed Field Emission Display project, which started in 1998. Sony wanted to build HD TVs that avoided the (then common) problems of dead pixels, flicker and burn-in that came with LCD and Plasma TV -is. The solution took the basic concept of an old Cathode Ray TV – an electron gun that shoots on a phosphorescent screen – and updated it. Instead of a single electron gun firing at a screen, Sony built a MEMS chip that packed millions of small electron guns into a silicon wafer.
Early demonstrations of the technology, which provided height definition and reduced risk of dead pixels, were promising. But Sony’s expensive but potentially superior technology was overcome by advances in (increasingly cheaper) LCD / LED TVs. In 2009, Sony killed the project after allegedly spending close to a billion dollars on R&D, and then sold the technology (and the team) to Japanese businessman Hitoshi Masuya. He recruited Powermat founder Poliakine to join and lead the company, which has been working on adapting the technology for medical imaging.
A traditional “hot cathode” X-ray beam works by passing an electric current through a heated filament. The filament, trapped in a vacuum, shoots electrons at an anode, and when they collide, high-energy photons (X-rays) are released. The tube itself is lead-lined, except for a single aperture, and so these photons are directed at a person. Some parts of the human body are more permeable to X-rays than others, so capturing what comes through on photographic film allows a radiographer to see what is happening inside the person. A disadvantage is that heating the filament takes a lot of energy and time, and the pipe requires regular replacement.
Creating a “cold cathode system”, without the need for heating, has been the goal of a number of companies for many years. (The earliest X-rays used cold cathodes, known as Crookes Tubes, but they proved to be unreliable). Recently, researchers have tried to build cold cathodes with carbon nanotube-based field emitters that act as an electron gun. But no companies have yet received these systems on the market – we found a press release from 2019 from a company called Meiden, but the path then stops cold. This is where Sony’s “billion-dollar” Field Emission Display technology comes in, as it relies on existing technology. It already functions as a basic electron gun, and can be activated and deactivated by pressing a switch, without the need for heating.
Not everyone is as excited about the company as some of the loudest cheerleaders are right now. In the wake of the company’s decision to launch its IPO back in August, analyst and card sales specialist Andrew Left became involved. The figure behind Citron Research, also a longtime critic of Tesla, said Nanox was a “complete farce.” Left added that the company was another Theranos, and that the alleged customer list was “fake”.
Poliakine described Venster’s claims as “nonsense” and “a lie”, adding that he focused on delivering the finished product. However, it is clear that a demonstration of the technology in front of a group of prominent radiologists will help to reject these claims. (Engadget contacted Andrew Left for comment, and had not received a response at the time of publication). It will not be until Nanox hardware is used, or at least tested, in the real world by independent reviewers, that we get a clear picture of efficiency and reliability.
Nanox does not plan to target hospitals and large healthcare companies, but instead wants to get the goods to underserved areas. The business model is also a little different. It does not cost the beds, which Poliakine says costs only $ 14,000 to build and ship, compared to around $ 300,000 for a basic CT scanner. Instead, they lend them to external clinics, much like you can borrow an office printer from a large company and charge $ 14 for each scan. The fee also covers cloud storage and the possibility to use a medical analysis service for AI. A number of companies are working with AI that will help doctors find abnormal conditions in X-ray examinations.
Nanox is now focusing on the first rollout of hardware, scheduled for early 2021. The company expects to install a handful of beds in the first few months, but plans to reach a target of 15,000 units in the next few years. Once clinics have assessed the value of the technology, we will see if Nanox’s goals are ambitious or not.