The Future of Healthcare: “We can replicate the tactile sensation of surgery to help train doctors” with Zhouming Tang of Intelligent Haptronic Solutions

As a part of my series about “The Future of Healthcare” I had the pleasure of interviewing Zhouming Tang, Cofounder & CTO of Intelligent Haptronic Solutions. Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path? Robotics technology has always been my inspiration. […]

As a part of my series about “The Future of Healthcare” I had the pleasure of interviewing Zhouming Tang, Cofounder & CTO of Intelligent Haptronic Solutions.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Robotics technology has always been my inspiration. I pursued a master study in haptic technology in the field of medical robotics in SFU from 2007–2010. During my study, I realized that the fields of robotics technology such as Haptics, AI, and VR can significantly improve the quality and efficiency of many medical applications such as surgical training and actual surgery. In addition, my father, who cofounded a medical software company in China, has been very influential to me. Through him, I realized how surgical training market is in desperate need for more streamline and objective solutions. Since then, the idea of starting my own company to apply my knowledge and inspiration in the field of medical robotics has grown.

After graduating from SFU, I did not immediately pursue robotics technology startup because, at that time, there were limited investment and job opportunities due to the global recession. Instead, I ended up working in the silicon industry. Even working there, I never stopped preparing myself for the eventual founding of a robotic technology startup. In 2015, I was fortunate to receive my father’s help and obtained preliminary market research and initial hospital connections.

From the market research, we determined that our first application is a digestive endoscopy training simulation aimed to provide streamline and intelligent training experience to surgeons. I was also fortunate to have my current business partner Mustapha Aassouli join the adventure. We worked together during countless week nights and weekends to come up with a proof-of-concept prototype. November 2016, I presented our project in the 2016 Shenzhen Oversea Returnee Technology Startup Conference in China and received great feedback from technology venture capitalists. Through this conference, we were fortunate to connect with Shenzhen Initial Science Value Investment Co., Ltd (ISVI) who eventually provided us angel investment in 2017. November 2017, Mustapha and I both resigned our full time job and embarked on the journey of Intelligent Haptronic Solutions.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

With the enormous team effort, we have successfully achieved the basic functionalities of the first IHS digestive endoscopy training simulator prototype in September 2018. The entire team was very anxious to validate our first prototype with our hospital partners. September 26, 2018, I, along with IHS China team and ISVI investor, demonstrated our first prototype to our lead medical consultant Dr. Bo Jiang, nation’s renown digestive endoscopy expert at Beijing Tsinghua Changgung Hospital. During the meeting, I was holding my breath while Dr. Jiang was evaluating the prototype. Eventually, it was a relief to hear positive comments from Dr. Jiang — “The basic functionality is working but still have lots of work ahead!”. Everyone within the team were excited to hear the news. It boosted the IHS team and ISVI investor’s confidence.

Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

Currently, many applications provide compelling visual effect through advanced computer graphics and VR. However, most of these applications are lacking sense of touch which has become a bottle neck of user experience. IHS strives for providing the best touch sensation through advanced Robotic Touch Technology Platform which combines the most advanced Haptic, VR, AI and Cloud technology. It can be applied to a variety of applications, such as medical, education, industrial and entertainment.

How do you think this will change the world?

In medical application, IHS Robotic Touch Technology Platform can be applied to surgical training, robotic assistive surgery and teleoperation applications. Based on our market research, we are committed to the research and development of digestive endoscopy training simulator which will provide revolutionary training experience to surgeon/trainee through lifelike VR environment, realistic force feedback, and audio effect. In addition, our expert system is able provide real time guidance throughout the training and a comprehensive report after the training. Comparing with tradition training method, IHS digestive endoscopy training simulator provides higher training quality, repeatability and efficiency.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

I think the greatest fear for me is the loss of control over the technology or the misappropriation of the technology for nefarious purposes. Fortunately, we believe that our current application has very limited potential to be abused.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

During my master study at SFU, I knew from my father that the digestive endoscopy surgical accident happened more often then he imagined, which was largely resulted from insufficient surgical training. In addition, I also found that my research can be directly applied to create revolutionary surgical training methods that could significantly increase training efficiency and quality. This was a tipping point that let me to the “Big Idea”.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

For medical training applications, we need health regulatory bodies to recognize that the traditional medical training methods do not meet the market demand and that more streamline and objective training methods such as the VR simulation training is required. With regulatory support, we believe that it will lead to widespread adoption. Eventually, patients can benefit from shorter wait time to receive surgical treatment, lower chances of surgical complication, and faster recovery time.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

I am going to provide 6 things:

Understand the essence of Entrepreneurship: The raw motive of starting IHS is that we love what we do and love to see our work used and benefited by our clients. The experience of the journey of creating and growing the business is a guarantee gain for life. With that in mind, all the challenges and sacrifices lay ahead will be justified.

Building a successful company takes gusto and a lot of it: We are still at the very start and although we gain momentum every day as we grow, it is still a struggle to keep the ball rolling. I work 6 and sometimes 7 days a week and frequently 16 hour days. I joke that at 6pm every day I start my second shift to engage with the team in China and to talk to prospective investors.

Know when to take a break and catch your breath: It is important to take a step back every once in a while to get a look at the big picture. I keep my sanity by keeping fit. We go to the gym and I love to snow board. Often the most creative solutions to problems occur when you least expect them.

The customer is the key to our success: We believe that a maniacal focus on the customer is critical, especially because our customers are physicians who are constantly busy with cranky patients. Our solution is to provide our customers with the very best in clinical training technology so that they may maintain peak performance with a minimum investment in time.

Surround yourself with good people and craft your own culture: We are a lean startup that must achieve the state of the art on a shoe-string budget. In order to succeed, we had to select our startup team carefully, making sure that each of us compliments the other’s skills. We were all formed in the crucible of prior startups and therefore know what culture we would like to incubate for ourselves at IHS.

Be prepared for failure and most importantly, the ability to recognize when a failure has occurred and to go back to the drawing board. We believe that the path to success will be riddled with failure and that how we respond to the failures defines the potential for success of an organization. Naturally we try to mitigate failure whenever possible and when it cannot be avoided, we want to learn from the experience.

The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?

The future of work is a rapidly evolving landscape and the best way to be prepared is to be fluent in the emerging languages that are being used in applications such as AI, VR and robotics. The future of work will be a process of continuous learning and adaptation in combination with existing experience and creativity.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

Work hard; Play hard; Be kind; Committed to do what I love; Devoted to the wellbeing of my family.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

The most important habits/mindsets that correlate to my career are passionate on what I do; determination on the career goal; consistency on work schedule.

IHS Product Demo to Beijing Tsinghua Changguang Hospital

Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?

IHS is a very young and fast growing robotic technology startup company that is aimed at research and development of robotic touch technology platform to provide the best touch sensation to many applications such as medical, education and entertainment. IHS has a team of industry leading researchers and experienced engineers that strive for advancing Haptic, VR and AI technology. Currently, we are focusing on research and development of the robotic touch technology platform to be applied to digestive endoscopy surgical training simulation system. Our current prototype provides basic functionalities to perform digestive endoscopy procedures and is being evaluated by our partner hospitals. IHS has research center in Metro Vancouver Canada and office in Shenzhen China which is responsible for product manufacturing, marketing and sales. IHS is in partnership with multiple well known hospitals including the department of gastroenterology, Beijing Tsinghua Changgung Hospital which will provide clinical trial/evaluation platforms for product development.

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