Interview: Suman Mulumudi, creator of Steth IO iPhone case that doubles as a stethoscope
A few weeks back we showed you one of the most innovative technology by a teenager that uses iPhone as a stethoscope. The Steth IO case for smartphone, developed by Suman Mulumudi who unearthed the hidden capability of iPhone’s microphone to detect heart beats very precisely, can even better a stethoscope. So we had to get an interview done with this ingenious kid who is on the course of making the most tech savvy stethoscope that you could ever imagine of. A stethoscope that is actually your iPhone case. So read on for what Suman had to say about our inquisitive queries and you’ll surely be amazed by his intellect.
DamnGeeky: Our readers would like to know about you, please tell us something about yourself?
Suman Mulumudi: To give some background about myself, I am currently a freshman at the Lakeside School in Seattle, WA. I also play the bassoon, which has developed in me a sense of discipline I couldn’t have gotten without studying music, and is a hobby that I deeply enjoy. I have always had an interest in science, engineering, and entrepreneurship, though if you asked me when I was younger I would not have expected to start my first company until I was at least in college.
DamnGeeky: Smartphone as a stethoscope, how did the ingenious idea strike you? How much has your father been and influence to you?
Suman Mulumudi: I believe that no idea comes about suddenly, but rather through the slow rumination of problems and ideas over an extended period of time. My father and StratoScientific’s President, Mahesh Mulumudi, is an interventional cardiologist at The Everett Clinic and Providence Medical Center in Everett, WA. He and I often discuss his work as an interventional cardiologist and what technologies enable him to perform his work. I started to consider how outdated the stethoscope seemed; the idea that a device that is essential for diagnosis hadn’t yet been brought into the digital and quantitative world seemed outrageous. The idea that a doctor would qualitatively record the data that they get from performing an auscultation (the process of listening to the heart with a stethoscope) is a major gap in modern medicine.
It is through these discussions with my father, a constant exposure to the problem, and my diverse experience with technologies, such as 3D printing, that I was able to synthesize the idea for the Steth IO. The entirety of this discussion and thought process was under the umbrella of my principles of design; simplicity and elegance. These are in no way unique principles, but I truly believe it takes practice and persistence to be able to apply them in practice. I always ask myself to find the essence of the problem, the challenge in its most fundamental problem, and then solve that in the most elegant way possible.
I consider every aspect of the design to make sure it adds an essential value in the most efficient manner possible. All great designs, I believe, are created between innovate thinking and an adherence to principles. It is in this way that I began with the problem of outdated stethoscopes and used a structured thought process to design the Steth IO.
DamnGeeky: Steth IO could be a better diagnosing tool than currently used stethoscopes. How does the Steth IO work to hear and visually display the quietest heartbeat?
Suman Mulumudi: Steth IO operates by using an audio wave guide to channel sound from the stethoscope bell to the microphone of the smartphone, utilizing the carefully designed acoustic technologies of the smartphone to pick up subtle heart sounds. Smartphone manufacturers have already spent a great deal of time designing high quality audio components, and so the Steth IO is able to leverage this design using a low cost solution. Software on the phone, with some basic filtering, displays the heart sounds on the phone screen for the user, in addition to allowing them to hear the sound as one would when using a regular stethoscope. While we are currently using third-party applications for visualizing heart sounds, we expect to have our own software released along with the Steth IO that will be more fine-tuned for usage with our product.
DamnGeeky: Is Steth IO compatible with only the iPhone? Why did you specifically select iPhone as the basis of your idea?
Suman Mulumudi: Though the current prototype of the Steth IO is only compatible with the iPhone, we expect to expand to a number of different phone models when the product is released. Though we haven’t chosen which phones we will be creating devices for, we expect this to include at least the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy line, as well as a few other models.
DamnGeeky: Basically Steth IO is an iPhone case, what do you have to say about its protection capabilities for the iPhone? Do you plan on developing Steth IO as standalone medical device?
Suman Mulumudi: Since we have not reached the final design of the Steth IO, it is difficult to pin down the exact protective capabilities of the Steth IO, but we fully expect it to be able to confidently guard against all regular phone usage, protecting the phone from daily wear and tear.
We believe the Steth IO has two use cases. The first is quite clear, and that is for use by medical professionals for the diagnosis of patients; the Steth IO would be a replacement for a medical professional’s regular stethoscope.
The other potential usage is as a home heart failure monitor. By heart failure clinics providing its patients with a Steth IO case to use with their phone, patients could monitor their own heart from home for third heart sounds which can be a sign of cardiac failure (the heart sound can be analyzed by software or sent to a medical professional for analysis).
This would make the Steth IO the first true non-invasive home heart failure monitor, and has the potential to greatly reduce hospitalization by allowing heart failure clinics to detect signs of heart failure, namely the third heart sound, early enough to intensify treatment and reduce hospitalization.
Though we have not ruled out the possibility of releasing the Steth IO in some form of a standalone medical device, we see its most powerful use as being a home heart failure monitor.
DamnGeeky: How was the experience working with 3D printing technology to create the Steth IO? What difficulties did you face while materializing the prototype?
Suman Mulumudi: One of the most empowering parts about being exposed to 3D printing is that it opens up your mind to thinking in different ways. Without realizing it, I believe we often limit our thought process by what we think we can produce. With 3D printing, one can open up their mind to thinking in radically new ways. Due to the nature of the Steth IO, its shape, and its physical requirements, I probably wouldn’t have been able to prototype the Steth IO within a reasonable time and cost frame without the use of 3D printing.
Though I had had some previous exposure to 3D printing, there was a learning curve in both the 3D design process as well as the printing process. Like any art form, 3D printing took some practice before I could really start using it as a prototyping tool.
Although I was able to complete the first prototype of the Steth IO within two weeks (with some prior work in getting used to the technology), I continued to develop skills and experience throughout the continuing prototyping process. In fact, I am still gaining valuable experience about 3D printing as I continue to prototype, and I believe that like any art, I will continue to expand my insight throughout ongoing practice and use of 3D printing.
DamnGeeky: You are also working on LesionSizer, how is it made and how does it work?
Suman Mulumudi: Currently, interventional cardiologists estimate the length of a lesion to be treated during angioplasty. (Please see the bottom of this document for a video on the angioplasty procedure.) Knowing this length is essential because once a stent is placed, it cannot be removed, and additional stents must be added to cover any uncovered lesion. This can lead to medical complications including restenosis: the re-closing of the artery. We are in the process of developing the LesionSizer, which can we believe can accurately measure the length of a lesion for an extremely low cost and almost no change to the procedure itself.
Currently, the guide wire used to bring the balloon and the stent to the lesion must be carefully navigated by the interventional cardiologist through the lesion. This navigation process involves moving the wire back and forth, as well as twirling it, in order to allow it to fit through the constricted path of the lesion. During this process, the interventional cardiologist needs to be able to feel as the tip of the guide wire hits the plaque; this tactile feel is what prevents them from puncturing the plaque and subsequently the arterial wall, leading to further complications.
Since this guide wire must cross the lesion, by measuring the displacement of this guide wire as it crosses the lesion one can measure the length of the lesion itself. We are able to measure this wire displacement by means of a non-contact optical technology which preserves the physician’s tactile feel while allowing them to measure the length of the lesion. As a result, this device can decrease complications, improve patient outcomes, and reduce the overall cost of the procedure.
The LesionSizer has also been prototyped on a 3D printer, for which we now have a working proof of concept prototype, and we are in the process of developing the product for release to the professional medical market. Let me know if this explanation was unclear, as the process can be somewhat difficult both to explain and understand; I would be happy to provide any clarifications or have a quick phone/Skype call to help communicate some of the details.
DamnGeeky: When you finally come out with the Steth IO and LesionSizer, how are they going to be priced?
Suman Mulumudi: We haven’t yet decided on a pricing model yet for either products, but we plan to open a pre-order system for the Steth IO in the near future. This pre-order system will allow you to reserve your spot in line for when the Steth IO is released, but we likely will not be defining the pricing model until shortly before the release date. Consequently, this pre-order system will collect no payment information.
DamnGeeky: You are seeking funding and FDA approval for your prototypes, any developments? Do you have any plans to launch your project on crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter?
Suman Mulumudi: We have not yet submitted our application to the FDA for approval, though when we are at the proper development product development stage we do plan on applying for both FDA and CE approval.
We are actively considering using crowd-funding platforms such as Kickstarter, but we have not yet made any decisions as to whether or not we will ultimately do so.
DamnGeeky: As a teenager how do you see technology changing the world we live in? What do you do when you are not envisioning the future of medical technology, you’re only 15 after all?
Suman Mulumudi: As a teenager, and more generally as a human being, I see technology as enabling and empowering ideas. Take anything from 3D printing to smartphones to social networks and you will find that all these technologies, ultimately, are better enabling people to turn their ideas into an impactful reality. It is my belief that this enabling of ideas is the pinnacle of human creation; ideas are enabling other ideas, which has been cascading in a positive feedback loop since early human civilizations. Modern technology is really no different than all of the other technological innovations throughout human history, it’s just on a much grander scale, and with much greater effects.
My life is dominated by StratoScientific, my academics and bassoon. I pursue these three with passion and they require a great deal of energy to continue. For me, life is about a love and passion for what you do, and I have both a love and passion for those three pursuits. In addition to the tasks themselves, the people I interact with along the way make the experience all the more wonderful. My life has come to be characterized by passionate specialization, and consequently I have been able to devote myself to StratoScientific, my academics and bassoon.
DamnGeeky: Thank you for taking time out to answer our questions. What do think about DamnGeeky, any suggestions?
Suman Mulumudi: I thank you deeply for the opportunity to be able to discuss the work of StratoScientific, and I apologize for not being able to get these responses to you sooner. I have found DamnGeeky to be quite interesting, and the wide range of technologies and news reported on is very fascinating.
NOTE:All claims are yet to undergo clinical validation.