Belarusian IT specialists from Innowise Group have founded the VOKA.IO project with virtual reality for surgeons. It helps you see fractures in the human body using VR. To do this, the team had to create 206 bone models and more than 800 types of possible fractures. And this despite the fact that investors did not support the idea, and the company had to invest only its own resources and financing. Founder Pavel Orlov spoke about how to develop a MedTech project on the conservative medical market.
How did we come to our own project at MedTech?
– We are not newcomers in the field of medical technology. Since about 2009, we have been closely involved in projects in MedTech and Healthcare for Europe and America. At first, these were simple custom projects: mobile applications for calling a doctor at home or SOS buttons. We thought about our product only years later: we gained experience, so isn’t it time for us to create our own brainchild?
The first step towards my VOKA.IO was my interest in AR and VR. In 2016, it was a hype area, and we decided to try ourselves in it: we bought devices (HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Microsoft HoloLens) and offered developer services.
The Belarusian market was then “rotten” and lagged behind its European neighbors. Big business didn’t invest in VR and AR. It was more entertainment than a way to get real money.Then the first masks with augmented reality appeared on Snapchat, and Pokemon Go gained popularity in just a week and a half.
The boom occurred in 2016, when B2B projects in industry, medicine or education began to grow actively. For example, OrcaMD has developed a mobile app called EyeDecide, which allows augmented reality to demonstrate how various diseases affect the quality of vision. This helped patients better understand the symptoms and even establish a diagnosis.
VR and AR-based applications have also appeared for construction companies, stores, and the service industry. In just a couple of years, technologies of the “other” reality have become firmly established in our business.
According to a study by Deloitte, in 2020 total spending on AR / VR headsets and software around the world amounted to $ 12 billion. Experts predict a boom in the popularity of augmented reality after the pandemic: to $ 73 billion by 2024 with an annual growth of 54%.
How did the idea for VOKA.IO come about?
When we have accumulated 5+ years of working with custom projects at MedTech, we actively took up the development of a new direction using Unity3D. It is a platform that allows you to create various applications with 3D content for a wide range of devices. Plus, we had a lot of purchased AR / VR / MR equipment in our office.
The stars converged – and we decided on the first experiments with augmented reality. In 2017, friends introduced us to Alexander Sitnik, head of the surgery department of the Republican Scientific and Practical Center for Traumatology and Orthopedics. He proposed an idea: create several 3D models of bone fractures and use Microsoft HoloLens to see them “in the body” of a patient, which is what we did.
How it works?
First, CT or MRI is done on the patient. The resulting data is then converted into a 3D model, which is loaded into Microsoft HoloLens glasses. Then the doctor puts on the device – and the 3D model is displayed in augmented reality. So the technology helps to see a real person and a virtual model at the same time – a bone, organ or muscle.
After several operations, it became clear: the development perfectly realizes the tasks of traumatologists. It helps to better consider the structure of the damage and choose the optimal approach to further treatment of the patient. The technology is used at the stage of diagnosis, planning and operation.
How did we develop VOKA.IO?
We first developed the first 3D bone model: it was 2017. Then a small team of 2-3 developers and 3D designers worked on the project.
We had a lot of enthusiasm, but we didn’t know yet that our passion for 3D models and augmented reality would grow into a large and serious project.In the same year, we took part in a hackathon from Wargaming and demonstrated on a dummy how injuries can be seen using our development. We took a prize and won a video card.
A new stage in the development of the project was the joint work with Alexander Sitnik. He helped us get used to the topic of medicine: he sent us to the field of surgery, introduced us to the medical community and seriously took up the study of augmented reality as a method that can help in complex operations and diagnostics. Then we decided and finally formalized all the developments into a single project. They called it speaking: VOKA.IO – as an opportunity to see what is usually hidden.
An important step towards international recognition was participation in the European Congress of Orthopedic Surgeons EFORT in 2018. Alexander Sitnik described the methodology of using our solution for the treatment of severe intra-articular fractures. Then something incredible happened! Doctors from Germany, Switzerland, Great Britain stood in line to look at our technology. Alexander’s report received silver for the use of AR in the treatment of severe fractures.
We are currently working on three products under the VOKA brand:
- VOKA.IO surgeon’s assistant based on augmented reality for the diagnosis of diseases and operations. This is a finished product that doctors of several Republican Scientific and Practical Center of Minsk are already using in clinical trials.
- VOKA Pathology 3D mobile application for medical students is a catalog of pathologies of human internal organs in 3D format
- Training VR simulator for surgical operations.
Our goal now is to achieve monetization. While the project is free, we do not earn from it. In the future, we plan to sell 3D models to clinics and hospitals or introduce a paid subscription to the application.
How the project was funded
Tens of thousands of dollars were spent on VOKA.IO. This amount includes team work, the purchase of a Microsoft HoloLens device, purchase of medical reference books, and promotion costs. It took over 3 years to develop the prototypes themselves, and we are still working on them.
Basically, we invested the resources of the company. First, of course, we created a presentation of the project and sent it to popular funds, met with investors. But they did not find a suitable option.
Investors either offered very small amounts or were not interested in the project.They argued that the development, coupled with clinical trials in Europe, is too long: from 1 to 3 years.
Therefore, in order to keep the project afloat, we analyzed the entire operating activities of the company in order to free up resources for VOKA. To begin with, we redistributed the employment of employees on other commercial projects.
It was a task with an asterisk: a prerequisite was to keep the speed and quality of development for customers at the same level, while giving more hours to specialists to work with VOKA.
Further, we optimized external and internal costs, tried to squeeze the maximum out of them and redirect them to this project.
“The pandemic helped buy time”: how we developed in 2020
In 2019, we were included in the top 5 global HealthCare projects in the World Summit Awards. When we were about to go on a trip to get our Swarovski lens, we suddenly faced quarantine. In the morning we flew to Vienna, and found only closed establishments and empty streets.
Instead of solemn events, we received a prize in the hotel lobby and flew to Minsk on the last flight.This was our first and last business trip in all of 2020.
Quarantine won – it was unrealistic to conduct research in Europe and the United States, and it was not easy in Belarus either. But we have made great progress in something else.
For example, in the field of management. When VOKA was just being created, our guys from the company worked on it: whoever wanted and was free at that moment. However, over time, the situation began to deteriorate.
Employees constantly switched between projects, became inattentive to details, the development process slowed down. Everyone was tired – both the team and the clients.This is a common problem when an outsourcing company creates its own product. Therefore, we decided to create a separate VOKA team. Now there are 25 people on the project: project manager, doctors, developers, 3D and UI / UX designers, business analysts, testers and marketers.
Another advantage of quarantine is that it helped us buy time. Over the course of a year, we have drawn over 100 models of human bones, muscles, and organs. We didn’t spend on clinical trials or promotion – our goal was only rendering 3D models and developing a mobile app for students. There are 206 bones in the human body. And more than 800 types of possible fractures identified by doctors. All of these models need to be drawn and agreed with the medical community.
COVID-2019 helped us to break away from competitors – they practically did not make any progress this year, and we released the world’s first such medical catalog of pathologies.
Business tips even if you’re not in IT
When you go such a long way on your own, you understand where you made a mistake, where you failed, and where, on the contrary, worked too hard. Here are some tips I’ve learned from experience for developing my product:
- The sooner you understand what kind of functionality is needed, the less resources will be required to “change shoes” of the product. This does not negate the flexibility in the process of working on the project, but it helps to significantly save time and money.
- Highlight a team that won’t be sprayed across multiple projects at once. This approach helps to be more focused and to deal with complexities faster. In addition, each employee sees the result of his efforts faster, and this spurs to achieve more.
- Inform all people on the project. Tell us what you are striving for and what has already been done. Sometimes employees join a project to solve a highly specialized task and do not see the whole picture. Even a simple story about the history of the project and its achievements helps the team feel involved in something big and inspires not only to complete the assigned tasks, but to share valuable suggestions for product development.
“We will see new MedTech solutions in the next 5 years – or we will do it ourselves”
Medicine is a conservative area, but significant changes are taking place in it. In 2019 alone, Microsoft and 14 surgeons from different countries conducted a demonstration of the use of HoloLens in operations.
And we did the same back in 2017! So a bunch of Belarusian doctors and programmers have overtaken Microsoft for a couple of years.We will see new working innovative MedTech solutions in the next 5 years – or we will do it ourselves. For example, the VOKA Pathology 3D application has no analogues: there are worthy competitors with an atlas of anatomy (for example, Complete Anatomy from 3D4Medical), but no one except us makes a complete catalog of pathologies in 3D format.
MedTech is a popular outsourcing area and an extensive area of work.
According to statistics from Frost & Sullivan, the volume of technologies in the field of health care increased to $ 1.96 trillion. And this is just the beginning. After the “boom” of the coronavirus and the subsequent quarantine, people began to take more care of their health. And what if not technology will help in this?