Unmanned with one hand

Houston-based company's device is revolutionizing drone technology across industries

Fluidity Technologies' joystick-like device is designed based on movement in space. Courtesy of Fluidity

It's not enough that Scott Parazynski has spent 57 days, 15 hours and 34 minutes in space. Nor is the fact that he's trained as a trauma surgeon. Not even climbing Mount Everest as a team physician for the Discovery Channel could satisfy one of Earth's most talent-blessed residents. Now Parazynski is on course to change multiple industries with his latest invention.

Not surprisingly, the member of the US Astronaut Hall of Fame based his design on movement in space. He wanted to approximate the movement of simultaneously shifting from one place to another, but also changing the body's orientation. In zero gravity, it takes precision and planning, Parazynski says, to do that in the most efficient way possible.

As a member of the Houston Methodist Research Institute, his goal was to create a joystick-like device "that would revolutionize surgical robotics." That is still a target for the technology, but with his own Houston-based company, Fluidity Technologies, Parazynski is first releasing the device as a drone controller known as FT Aviator.

"Mostly because it's an enormously growing marketplace and the barriers are a lot less," he admits.

That's not to say Parazynski is anything less than a world-class expert on the subject of flight.

"I've flown aircraft and spacecraft," says Parazynski. "But none allowed for the precision of motion I was looking for. None prevented unintended motion."

Lifelong passion
He himself has had toy drones for as long as they've been available and purchased his first "serious drones" three or four years ago, around the same time he conceived of FT Aviator.

When he started to research other drone controllers, he realized that most current models aren't too different from relics from the 1930s on display at the Smithsonian.

"There has been zero innovation in flight control," he says.

As opposed to the two-handed controllers that recall 1990s video game systems, FT Aviator only requires the attention of the pilot's dominant hand. This is especially useful to those using drone cameras. Instead of complex machinations that often require multiple launches, the user can simply make adjustments to the camera with his or her other hand.

"It does this incredibly intuitive motion with a drone or computer game or virtual augmented reality," Parazynski says, listing other potential uses for the technology.

It's FT Aviator's natural movement that will one day make Fluidity's core technology a groundbreaker in surgical robotics. Since the da Vinci surgical robot's 2000 FDA approval, the machine has created controversy. In the hands of a well-trained surgeon, it substantially reduces healing time. But there is no approval process for doctors to use it, so disasters in the hands of untrained practitioners have made the news.

By using the simpler mechanism of Parazynski's technology, the learning curve for robotic surgery is far less steep.

"What we want to do is make it so someone with less training can enjoy the same outcomes," Parazynski explains.

Cross-industry innovation
Ideally, one day a doctor in Houston will be able to operate remotely on a patient across the globe. Thanks to the device's tactile feedback, it's a realistic goal.

But Parazynski foresees "dozens of applications" for his invention, which will begin shipping in February. Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico has already engaged Fluidity, just one on a list of about 50 businesses and government institutions interested to work with the company when it comes onto the marketplace.

"But any good startup will tell you it's about focus," the entrepreneur admits.

That means that for now, he and his team have his eye specifically on controlling drones. Within two weeks of launching a Kickstarter this fall for the business, Fluidity doubled its goal. The FT Aviator has been named a 2019 Innovation Award Honoree at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show. But Parazynski says he owes much of his success to Houston, his home of a quarter century.

Fluidity is based out of a WeWork coworking space.

"I think it's a really exciting place to have a tech startup" Parazynski says. "It's not yet to the scale of Silicon Valley or even Austin but certainly the innovation that's taking place here warrants a major tech hub."

And thanks to Parazynski's work, that day may be coming sooner rather than later.

Drone on

Courtesy of Fluidity

From surgeries to flying drones, Fluidity's technology will affect several industries.

Houston Methodist has been recognized in two different awards programs. Courtesy of Methodist Hospital/Facebook

Houston Methodist has a couple new feathers in its cap. The hospital system was recognized with two different awards recently.

Houston Methodist was the only hospital system to have four hospitals receive a 2019 Vizient Bernard A. Birnbaum, M.D., Quality Leadership Award, a recognition that praises hospitals for demonstrating quality and care. The Vizient Quality and Accountability Study has been conducted every year since 2005.

Houston Methodist Hospital was recognized in the in the comprehensive academic medical center category, Houston Methodist Sugar Land received an award in the specialized complex care medical center category, and both Houston Methodist Willowbrook and Houston Methodist The Woodlands were selected for the complex medical center category.

"Having four of our hospitals on this list is extraordinary. Receiving such national recognition is an honor, but I'm most proud that the reason for these awards is our concerted focus on quality patient care," says Marc L. Boom, president and CEO of Houston Methodist, in a news release.

This year was slightly different from years prior, and 349 participating hospitals were divided into four cohorts for the Vizient Quality and Accountability Ranking. Among some of the assets considered were safety, mortality, clinical effectiveness, efficiency and patient centeredness. The announcement was made last week during the 2019 Vizient Connections Education Summit in Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, the hospital system was also recently recognized for being among the "Most Wired" in the United States. For the 12th consecutive year, Houston Methodist received the 2019 HealthCare's Most Wired recognition from the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, or CHiME. The award recognizes hospital systems for their innovation, adoption, and optimal use of information technology.

New this year was CHiME's ambulatory facilities recognition, which Houston Methodist received for outstanding technical accomplishments, earning a Certified Level 8 Quality Award.

Innovation has an increased focus at Houston Methodist since premiering its Center for Innovation — a group of leaders charged with finding new technologies for the hospital system for patients, physicians, and staff — under the leadership of Roberta Schwartz. She is the system's executive vice president, chief innovation officer, and chief executive officer of Houston Methodist Hospital.

After 17 years at Houston Methodist, Schwartz says she's seen the evolution of tech and is taking note of where the industry is going.

"I think we're an industry that is transforming itself. We're either going to be disrupted or we're going to do the disruption ourselves," Schwartz tells InnovationMap in a previous article. "There's nobody who knows health care better than we do, so if we're going to transform the industry, I want that transformation to come from the inside."