I came across a product recently that looked interesting, on the face of it. It looked like a pair of headphones, but with protruding nozzles that would go directly into the user’s ear canals. This was SafKan’s yet-to-be-released automated ear cleaner - the OtoSet.
Now, there are many things that appear as interesting as this did to me, but the reality is that the majority of them are relatively untested, unproven, junk products. I wanted to find out whether this was the case for the OtoSet, so I reached out to them, looking to speak with someone about the product and get a little bit more background about what it is that SafKan is making here.
The following interview is a combination of summary of conversation and direct quotation of Sahil Diwan, SafKan’s co-founder and CEO.
SafKan, aside from the motivations and goals that I’ll cover below, has put together a killer team for this project.
The company is composed of Sahil and Aadil Diwan, CEO and CTO respectively, the brothers that originally founded the company. Their engineering team consists of four Ph.Ds in Electrical and Computer Engineering, who worked together during their times spent at the University of Arizona. Finally, SafKan’s Director of Operations, Ryan Maish, oversees manufacturing and quality control, having moved to SafKan after 7 years at Raytheon as an electrical engineer.
The company’s advisory board is composed of 3 otolaryngologists (including Dr. Martin Hopp, who heads up the Sinus Center at Cedars-Sinai), a physician executive, a practicing Primary Care Physician, a specialist in implementing clinical and regulatory pathways, and Jeff Mayhew, the CDO of LabConnect.
We started the conversation at the story of the company, and why they are pursuing this product with such rigor.
Sahil is a software engineer, but also describes himself as a serial entrepreneur. His brother, Aadil, was finishing up his undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering when he came up with the idea for this product. Sahil’s brother is one of around 12 million people who need to see their physician each year in order to have their ears professionally cleaned. That’s 231,000 people a week, to save doing the math.
According to the AAOHS (essentially the ENT Society), 1 in 10 children, 1 in 20 adults, and 1 in 3 people aged 65+ have excess or impacted ear wax - a number that surprised me in its scope.
Over a period of about 2 months, Sahil and Aadil worked with over 110 physicians, figuring out exactly what their needs would be in a device like this. The response from physicians was, generally speaking, “As long as it can do what you say it can, there is no reason that I wouldn’t want to own one.”
Sahil sees this market, professional otolaryngologists (where the first part of the product’s name comes from), as the first step for the company to take into the market, as well as primary care physicians and audiologists. Although the goal is to eventually make the jump into the consumer market, the device is currently fairly expensive, and being able to reduce cost through development and increased production-numbers will hopefully make it feasible for consumers in the (relatively) near future.
SafKan is currently in the third round of prototyping of the OtoSet, and has just started the 6-9 month process of FDA approval. They hope to hit the market in early 2018. This is something that distinctly separates SafKan from many of the junkier products that I referenced at the beginning - almost none of them are taking the steps that SafKan is. Additionally, the vast majority lack the vision and drive that has pushed this company to where they are.
Beyond the medical market, SafKan hopes that eventually, their product will sit next to things like the SonicCare toothbrush (and hopefully sell for around the same price) in larger retails across the country - stopping people from disregarding the warnings on Q-tip boxes and risking impacting more earwax in their ear canal.
So beyond their goals, and beyond their prior work, the device utilizes a very interesting and unique physical process.
“We like to call it a simple, elegant solution. So, right now, they [physicians] just use a big, scary-looking metal syringe; it’s called the Graham Ear and Bladder Syringe. Our device is completely mess free, Like you saw, it’s a headset - a lot of the design did come from looking at headsets, and designing something that wouldn’t be scary and would be easy to use.
What it does is it pulses irrigation solution to the ear; right now, we’re using saline, to keep it simple and sterile. It pulses this solution into the ear at these frequencies that we’ve determined to be most effective. Throughout the whole procedure, it has continuous suction, so that nothing is running out onto your shoulders - it’s all self-contained.
In the device, there’s two containers. The solution is in the top, prepackaged, and all of the waste goes into the bottom. You would just dispose of that, along with the tips.”
The device currently plugs into the wall, exactly as one would expect, and can get around 50 procedures per charge, on their clinical device. SafKan plans to upgrade the battery in the consumer version and get considerably more use out of it between charges. Sahil clarified that, “You can really think of the consumer version as a less industrial version of the clinical device,” - which I assume refers mainly to the physical design, ease-of-use, and intensity of cleaning. Sahil added, “The clinical device is really for someone who wakes up and can’t hear out of one ear, whereas the consumer device is to, kind of, kill the Q-tip - to prevent any earwax buildup.”
This conversation did, in some ways, change my opinion of SafKan. Although I feel that it may be hyperbolic to say that this could kill the Q-tip, I feel that, with the leadership and development expertise that the company has, combined with the drive, motivation, and vision that has now been made evident to me, SafKan could get to a place where their product sits on shelves across the country.
I certainly feel, aside from that, that this product could be tremendously valuable to the “audiophile” community. Q-tips really are terrible at cleaning out earwax, even if that is one of their most common (if exactly not-recommended) uses, and I would certainly love to replace them with the OtoSet in the future.
If it becomes price-reasonably, works reliably, and is as convenient as it has been made out to be, I’d love to own a set. That’s a lot of qualifiers for this product to succeed in my eyes, and I recognize that, but I have some degree of faith in SafKan for all of the reasons clarified in the above interview. They’d certainly be the most unique “anything-shaped-like-a-headphone” that I could own.