A Sense of Things to Come

July, 2008

Kai Sensors, a startup founded in August 2007, is the Hawaii innovation success story the state craves. The company’s new product — a medical device that can monitor a patient’s respiration without even touching the patient — is based on University of Hawaii research. The company, now staffed at 13, is hiring local engineering grads and attracting Mainland talent­­ to Hawaii. “It’s the reverse brain drain,” says Kai Sensors CEO Andrea Yuen. And within a year, its prototype for respiration monitoring is expected to hit the market.  Could another Hawaii IPO be in the offing?

Here’s a snapshot of Kai Sensors.

HOW IT WORKS: Kai has taken UH research in microwave Doppler radar and turned it into a commercial product that uses the technology to monitor the movement of a person’s chest in and out, the volume of each breath and breaths per minute. The system, which Kai Sensors engineered from a massive system of wires and circuit boards into a microchip, can also monitor such things as heart rate.

WHY IT’S SO USEFUL: In discussions with hospitals and medical field experts, there is no easy way to monitor someone’s respiration short of a doctor putting his stethoscope on the patient’s chest or inserting tubes into someone’s throat. The device allows hospitals and families with ill members at home to continually monitor a patient’s or loved one’s breathing and adds a tool to crisis care that doesn’t exist today. The breathing measurements can even be sent in real-time to a cell phone.

WHERE KAI SENSORS CAME FROM: Kai Sensors was founded by three UH professors, Victor Lubecke, Olga Boric-Lubecke and Anders Host-Madsen in partnership with Dustin Shindo, best known for his success with Hoku Scientific. Shindo is the board chairman at Kai Sensors. Also of note, James Thompson, of VeriFone, is the product development advisor for the company.

WHAT’S NEXT: Kai Sensors was expected to reveal its prototype in Hawaii in late June and begin its next round of fundraising. The company is also in the process of applying for FDA approval and securing a contract with a medical device manufacturer. The expectation is to sell it globally by early next year. Yuen declined to quantify the revenue potential of the device, but an IPO could be an eventual outcome.

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Scott Radway