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Robo-Surgeon Takes on Baldness

Restoration Robotics' ARTAS system harvests hair follicles for later implantation

2 min read
Robo-Surgeon Takes on Baldness
Image: Restoration Robotics

Lots of news lately from San Jose-based robo-surgeon manufacturer Restoration Robotics. In October, the company announced that it had just sold its 100th ARTAS robotics system (at about US $200,000 each) and “harvested” its 10 millionth hair follicle. (At about 1200 to 1600 hair follicles per patient, that’s perhaps 7000 or so patients that have had the robotic surgery.)

And this month, news came out that the backers of Restoration Robotics, among them venture firms Sutter Hill, Clarus, and InterWest Partners, had just put a few more million dollars into the company, closing out a Series C round of $45 million, for a total investment to date of more than $70 million. (That’s $7 per hair if you’re counting.)

imgARTAS uses a high resolution image of the scalp to allow it to identify target follicles.Image: Restoration Robotics

Restoration Robotics started in 2002, and its first-generation product received Food and Drug Administration clearance in 2011. This latest round of funding aims to bring a second-generation robot to market.

The VCs aren’t making a crazy bet—cures for baldness are a $3.5 billion  market annually—and that’s just in the United States. If Restoration Robotics gets a decent piece of that market, its investors would win big.

imgThe robot then punches out individual follicles for later implantation.Illustration: Restoration Robotics

The ARTAS robot, using an onboard camera and analysis software, analyses high-resolution images of a patient’s scalp and selects follicles to extract; a doctor watching a monitor (in the same room or remotely) oversees these choices. The robot then uses one needle to break the skin and then follows it with a hollow needle to punch out the follicle. The doctor later manually inserts the follicles into previously bald areas of the scalp.

A typical harvesting session takes 6 to 10 hours—that’s a long time for a patient in a chair, but it’s faster than a doctor could do it working follicle by follicle, which is why surgeons extracting follicles manually usually take off strips, not individual follicles. Restoration Robotics advertises its approach as less likely to leave scarring and more likely to lead to a natural look.

The Conversation (0)

The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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