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CES: New scanning tech could appeal to doctors and do-it-yourselfers

I’ve seen a lot of cool things thus far at the CES show here, but among the most amazing was some technology I saw demonstrated by a small startup at a tiny booth in the back of the north hall of the convention center here.

Israel-based Vayyar has developed some scanning technology that seems to have the potential to have a big impact on everything from do-it-yourself home improvement projects, to agricultural product to medical imaging. The technology is able to provide three-dimensional images of rooms, people, tissues inside the body and structures inside walls. It can also act as a kind of spectroscope, able to identify the amount of fat, say, in a glass of milk.

“Think about it as having Superman vision,” company CEO Raviv Melamed said.

Vayyar’s technology sends out low-powered microwaves and uses algorithms to construct 3D images based on the reflections of those beams. The system works quickly, is portable and, at least in the medical realm, potentially costs far less money and involves far less risk than alternative scanning methods, like X-rays, MRIs and CT scans.

During our meeting, Melamed demonstrated how a scanner using Vayyar’s technology could be used to see inside walls like a ultra-high tech stud finder. He placed a scanner, which had approximately the same dimensions as an iPhone, on to a mock-up wall and connected it via a wire to a smartphone. As he moved the scanner up and down the wall, we could see on the smartphone screen the structures behind the wall’s drywall exterior, including a water pipe, an electrical wire and a wood stud.

The representations of the various structures were fairly crude — they all basically looked the same on the screen. But Melamed said this was just the first step. Vayyar is working on improving the technology, allowing it to distinguish between metal pipes and plastic-coated wires. The company plans to start selling the first of these scanners for do-it-yourselfers by the second quarter of this year for around $250 to $300.

But that’s not Vayyar’s only trick. A more important one is the how the company is developing the technology for use in scanning breast tissues for possible tumors. Vayyar has created a prototype of an imaging system that uses 10 of its sensors arrayed in a circle in a shell that could fit around a breast. The system would be able to make a three-dimensional image within a couple of seconds, he said.

Unlike the X-rays typically used in mammograms, Vayyar’s technology is non-ionizing and is 100 times less powerful than the radiation emitted by cell phones, meaning that there’s likely far less worry about damage to human tissues from multiple scans. Potentially, the technology could be used far more often at far less of a cost than traditional imaging systems; Melamed estimates the system could cost a few thousand dollars. The system is already undergoing initial clinical trials in Israel and Vayyar plans to launch much larger trials in India soon.

“We believe this could change how we deal with breast cancer,” he said.

And the technology could have other uses. Melamed demonstrated how a scanner could be set up near a sleeping person to detect and record sleep patterns, diagnose conditions like sleep apnea and alert users when they’ve stopped breathing. It could also be used to scan moisture in the ground, to detect how thoroughly plants have been watered.

The company, which has raised some $22 million and has some 30 employees, is exploring licensing its technology to Fortune 500 corporations and selling products on its own. The wall scanner, for example, will be sold directly by Vayyar under a new brand name.

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