Andrei Demchinsky: Our goal is to help where eye doctors are helpless

Sensor-Tech Lab is a team of researchers, engineers, IT specialists and doctors, and a resident of the Skolkovo Foundation in Moscow. The company develops technologies to assist individuals with hearing and visual impairments. Director of Medical Projects Andrei Demchinsky created the world’s first VR simulator of eye disorders that helps researchers to see the world exactly the way patients see it.

In an interview with Invest Foresight, Andrei Demchinsky said that See My World is a VR simulator that allows seeing our world through the eyes of people with visual impairments of different degrees. According to global statistics, more than 2.2 bio people in the world suffer from an eyesight disorder. The numbers vary from city to city and from country to country. In some Asian cities up to 90% of residents are myopic. The statistics in Russia is lower.

“Our software could help almost anybody,” he claims. “This is not a tool for fixing visual disorders but it helps people who can see well to look at the world through the eyes of people who are visually challenged – and help them. Our main goal is to help where eye doctors are helpless today. For a long time, we lived in a format that we considered a norm because no adequate tools existed. For example, a patient with glaucoma visits a doctor. Glaucoma is often diagnosed when symptoms are severely progressed. If a person loses their driver’s license because of this diagnosis, it is a big problem that changes their life completely. These days, ophthalmologists, even experts specializing in glaucoma, have a wide range of available tools such as eye drops, surgery and diagnostics, which allows preventing the disease from progressing further. Still, none of these tools can restore what was lost. Doctors can help patients to avoid further deterioration but, unfortunately, they can’t recommend anything when it comes to adapting to the new circumstances. And the patient that came with a problem still leaves with the problem not fully resolved and they don’t know what to do next. Our primary goal is to solve this major issue of helping people who lost their vision.

Sensor-Tech Lab offers the system to medical personnel and educational institutions; the mobile version of SMV Pro is available by subscription in the App Store. A desk version with a system unit and an additional camera is now under development.

According to Demchinsky, “See My World is Sensor-Tech Lab’s own development. The company is preparing PCT patent documents for several countries, plus an application for the Skolkovo Foundation, whose special patent service will assess the technology and recommend the countries to receive patents in.”

“There are some other devices that simulate visual impairments, but there are no such products that could make simulations based on real clinical data,” Demchinsky said. “Our product is unique: we take data received from an expert (visual field test, and others) and upload it into the system to receive a customized simulation: we will see through the eyes of a concrete person. There is a disease known as age-related macular degeneration; it may result in blurred or no vision in the center of the visual field, and has many manifestations. The solution that is offered by our competitors only covers several of them. None of them has a customized solution.”

The See My World project was partly developed with the team’s own money, and partly with support from private individuals and foundations. It was initially supported by the Connection Deaf-Blind Support Foundation; later the company also won a presidential grant and used it to finalize the technology. The latest version, SMW Pro, was developed with the company’s own investment. As Andrei Demchinsky noted, “We won’t be able to raise extra funding until we show revenue. The financial payback period of the project is three years, but it is difficult to make accurate forecasts because it is about a completely new technology that does not fit into most doctors’ stereotypical thinking; they will need someone to show and explain things, and this is hard work. So we give lectures, and I personally negotiate with various clinics, their representatives. Subsequently, when we have statistical results, we will rely more on scientific publications and conferences for awareness. International conferences are highly trusted sources: if we are not there, few will believe us. And when we can publicly show and explain what we do, so that people can see the results, then they will begin to show keen interest.”

Initial plans included distributing the system to every medical institute, but this idea was later abandoned because the products are cheap but their value is high. The main distribution channel is actually the mobile version, which gives a user with a personal account a tool for immersing in people’s problems, as well as a scientific research tool providing for another look at visual symptoms of eye diseases. “All customized simulators can be used in scientific publications. We upload everything to the server; there is a unique identification number that indicates a publication, and a person can upload data and add a corresponding publication from anywhere in the world,” Demchinsky said. “We are implementing a pilot project at a pediatric ophthalmology clinic. Visually impaired children, whose parents seek treatment of such disorders, undergo medical examination, with the data put into the simulator. Doctors give lectures, provide parents with detailed information on their kids’ problems as well as on the treatment methods. Then the parents can have a look at everyday objects such as a blackboard or household items through their children’s eyes. Many parents of children with visual impairments would like them to seat at the front desk in the classroom, but this is often not needed. We help parents immerse in their children’s world to show how they can help them.

Today, visually impaired kids who take studies in specialized schools receive standard education materials. However, every child has different eyesight, and teachers have no clue whether a school student with a certain eyesight disorder is able to solve the set task. Creating specific VR simulators for teachers will allow them to assess educational materials offered to children, and give tasks at different levels of complexity depending on a kid’s eyesight disorder to achieve the best results. Visually impaired children are capable of receiving only a limited amount of information, which directly affects their intellectual development. This is why efforts should be taken to help them receive a proper amount of information without overburdening them; a failure to solve the task means an enormous stress for a student, who can withdraw into himself and refuse to take further studies.”

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