Mobile x-ray pioneer Micro-X takes world-first technology to US defence and medical markets

5 October 2021

X-ray technology barely changed after it was first invented in 1895 … that is, until Micro-X invented the world’s first electronic x-ray tube.

The company’s patented technology uses carbon nanotubes to generate the stream of electrons needed to make x-rays. The technology was incorporated into the Carestream DRX-Revolution Nano, a mobile X-ray machine launched in 2018. Smaller, lighter and more agile than conventional x-ray units, it meant patients no longer had to go to the x-ray machine; the x-ray machine came to the patient.

‘Our mobile x-ray machines were widely used by hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic,’ says Sophie Hegarty, Micro-X’s Head of Sales. ‘Healthcare workers could determine the severity of the symptoms and monitor the status of patients in ICU and on ventilators right at the patient’s bedside.’

Now, Micro-X has set its sights on selling its Rover mobile x-ray machine to the US defence and healthcare sectors. The ASX-listed company has signed distributors and set up a US head office to drive sales with Austrade’s assistance. It is also progressing a multimillion-dollar contract to design self-service baggage scanners for the Department of Homeland Security using its patented X-ray technology.

A medical device market that embraces new technology

The Micro-X Rover is a mobile X-ray machine that weighs around 100 kg (compared to 600 kg for competitor products). First developed for the Australian Defence Force, its small size and rugged features make it ideal for field hospitals or facilities in remote locations. The World Health Organization facilitated a purchase of several units for use in the Pacific Islands in response to COVID-19.

Micro-X sees huge potential for Rover in the US. The size of the market means the unit has many applications, from public and military hospitals to aged care facilities and medical centres.

‘The US is very open to absorbing new technology,’ says Hegarty. ‘When they see a technology that hasn’t been changed in 100 years until now, they sit up and listen. Rover is smaller and requires less energy so it’s more cost-effective than competitor products. We’ve been getting very positive feedback when we demonstrate Rover.’

The Rover is not the only product utilising the carbon nanotube technology. Micro-X is developing a self-service baggage scanner that uses the technology for the Department of Homeland Security (more on that later). Micro-X is also using its technology to develop a mobile stroke-diagnosis system for ambulances, and a device to detect improvised explosive devices.

These products can be used by many large customers in the defence, security, medical and healthcare sectors, assuring Micro-X of a secure future in the US with multiple revenue streams.

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Micro-X Rover, a mobile x-ray machine

Whole-of-government team streamlines market entry

Micro-X faced a number of market entry challenges. It was a new player in the market with no profile or brand recognition selling a little-known technology. Travel restrictions due to COVID-19 made it difficult to travel to the US to meet distributors and government contacts.

Micro-X reached out to Austrade to help overcome these challenges. The complexity of the market and target sectors required a whole-of-government approach. Austrade put together a team comprising representatives from Austrade, the South Australian Government, the Australian Department of Defence and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The team worked together to provide in-depth market intelligence and introductions to distributors and government contacts. This coordinated approach ensured Micro-X received critical information and advice quickly and efficiently.

Work with regional distributors

Austrade advised Micro-X to use regional distributors instead of a single national distributor. This was because of the size of the US market and unique regulations of different regions.

Austrade identified distributors targeting hospitals, aged care facilities and clinics in the Mid-West and Texas. The agency provided a shortlist for Micro-X to assess and arranged introductions to Micro-X’s preferred distributors.

‘With Austrade’s assistance, we have set-up one distribution arrangement and have meetings with others in the pipeline,’ says Hegarty.

Micro-X has sent its first shipment of Rover to the US. The company has secured demonstrations with potential commercial and government defence buyers.

Australian Government provides vital support

The Micro-X Rover unit has attracted great interest from the US Department of Defense (DoD). It believes the Rover can be applied in both combat and humanitarian situations.

‘There are people we need to connect with to progress procurement of our Rover units,’ says Hegarty. ‘Austrade’s Director of Defence and Security and Australia’s defence attaché in Washington have both been very helpful in providing advice and opening doors to the right people.’

Australia’s Ambassador to the United States, the Hon. Arthur Sinodinos AO, has also played a role in supporting Micro-X’s entry into the US. Micro-X has presented its strategy to Ambassador Sinodinos to familiarise him with the company’s objectives.

‘We invited Congressman Adam Smith, chair of the House Armed Services Committee, to the opening of our headquarters in Seattle,’ says Hegarty. ‘Ambassador Sinodinos understood the importance of Australian representation at the event. While he couldn’t attend himself, he asked Brigadier Hugh Meggitt to represent the Australian Defence Department.

‘Support like that is critical – having a uniformed Australian brigadier at the opening of an Australian facility in Seattle made a distinct impression on Congressman Smith. It signalled that Micro-X as well as the Australian Government were seriously committed to the US.’

Next-generation airport checkpoints

In May 2021, Micro-X opened its US headquarters in SeaTac, Washington State, to drive sales of the Rover unit. The SeaTac facility will also be a centre of excellence for imaging product development.

The facility will work on progressing a multimillion-dollar project with the Department of Homeland Security. In November 2020, the Department selected Micro-X to develop a self-service security screening portal for airline passengers. The portal comprises a booth that provides a 3D image of carry-on luggage, together with a body scanner and passport reader.

The US Micro-X team will lead the project, working with a number of global organisations. The knowledge gained on this project will be shared with teams in Australia.

More applications on the horizon

Micro-X is exploring additional markets with Austrade’s support, as well as other areas where the Rover might be useful, such as the not-for-profit and humanitarian sectors.

‘Austrade has put us in touch with a senior person at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation who understands the value our technology can deliver to organisations in these sectors,’ says Hegarty. ‘That includes Rover and our three other products in development.

‘One of the best things about my job is showing people our product lines and seeing them blown away by what the technology can do,’ says Hegarty.

‘We might be a small fish in a big pond at the moment – but we don’t have the same challenges as other SMEs due to our unique offering. No other company has a carbon nanotube mobile x-ray unit with the potential to have a huge impact on healthcare, security and defence globally.’

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