According to the Centre of Autism Disease Control and Prevention survey, the ratio of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) all around the world is 1:59.
Diagnosing ASD is difficult as there is no medical test to detect it. The only way it can be diagnosed at present is when the doctors observe the patient over a generalised parameter. Since patients are not able to give much feedback, the doctors are also not able to fully find out the in-depth details of the problem.
To address this problem with tech solutions, Sathyanarayanan AR and Bobin Chandra founded Embright Infotech in 2017. The Thiruvananthapuram-based startup is developing products using Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Mixed Reality (MR), and Internet of Things (IoT) in different sectors such as healthcare, education, etc.
Its main product Auticare is an Extended Reality (XR) AI-based assistive technology for ASD, which is also helping young doctors, apart from patients, with a look and feel of real medical procedures. It helps in new methods of treatment for rare diseases and helps doctors gain familiarity.
“Our main focus area is the content development of 3D environments in virtual reality and augmented reality. The sector is just starting to come up in India, and we are one of the very few VR/AR companies in Kerala. We create customer specific environments to customers based on the requirements specified by them,” says Sathya.
According to Sathya, it was his mother’s rehabilitation activities for disabled children that inspired him to build a therapy platform. His mother has a post-doctoral in clinical linguistics, and has worked with the Institute for Communicative and Cognitive Neuro Sciences (ICCONS).
This, combined with working in virtual reality as an innovation specialist at an MNC in Bengaluru, and his exposure to disabled children inspired Sathya to start a company that develops virtual reality healthcare solutions along with his schoolmate Bobin.
A BTech graduate, Sathya worked for over nine years at an MNC before starting up. Bobin is an MBA graduate with over eight years of experience working with MNCs in India and overseas.
Started with a team of four people, Embright Infotech has grown into a team of 18 now. The Thiruvananthapuram-based company also has an office in Bengaluru.
The startup is currently bringing VR as a diagnostic and therapeutic tool for doctors to study and understand the various medical procedures and patient diagnosis in detail.
Once the patient (child) puts on the Auticare device, they are transported to a virtual world, wherein they are taught real life skills. The startup has created special scenarios such as road crossing and traffic light signals to help the child understand and behave accordingly in such situations. It tracks the heat map of the patient’s eye and also the emotional changes happening during the exercise.
This data is then recorded and stored for reference by other doctors so that a general diagnosis pattern result can be obtained. A standard Auticare costs over Rs 10 lakh, says Sathya.
“New methods of treatment that involves rare diseases and cases can now be replicated over a million times for any doctor to be familiar with. The risk of patient trials can be fully avoided through the involvement of virtual and augmented reality,” says Sathya.
A global client base
“We are one of the top VR company, which was selected by Kerala Startup Mission to be incubated. We are currently incubated in NASSCOM, Bangalore; IIMK Live, Kozhikode; Maker Village, Kochi; and virtual incubation at Vel Tech TBI, Chennai,” says Sathya.
He further explains,
“The customer segment of autism therapy starts from hospitals and public health centres that provide cheap and affordable treatment to masses. Autistic children can visit such centres and take therapy sessions under the supervision of doctors. The next level of the product adopters will be special schools and health centres that monitor and cater to the needs of disabled children. Parents can also buy the product directly and get the benefits of therapy that is prescribed by a certified doctor."
At present, the startup is providing services to hospitals, clinics, and special education schools. It has over 10 customers in private and public sectors in India, and is also in talks with various clinics and hospitals in GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council).
“We have tied up with Kerala Social Security Mission, Govt of Kerala, CEFEE (Central for Empowerment and Enrichment),” adds Sathya.
According to Markets and Markets, the global virtual reality market is expected to grow from $7.9 billion in 2018 to $44.7 billion by 2024, at a CAGR of 33.47 percent during the forecast period.
Sathya claims, there are no parallel therapy modules catering to the need of autistic children developed at the moment.
“Companies such as Floreo have been creating VR therapy solutions for autism patients in the US. Their content is being used by schools and rehabilitation centres to improve the condition of children. We, on the other hand, are developing interactive scenarios that will be generating feedback based on the patient’s interactions with these environments,” explains Sathya.
As the technology is relatively new, and due to higher cost of hardware and lack of awareness among the general public, it was a challenge for the company in the beginning with respect to market penetration.
“The use case versatility of virtual reality is relatively untapped even today in the global perspective. Being a healthcare product dealing with disabled children, the challenges faced by the whole team is immense. Not every parent is willing to associate their disabled child with a new medical procedure, and it takes time for the sample collection team to build trust and confidence. This difficulty in approach delays our sample collection time and procedure optimisation. But even during such difficulties, we enjoy the advantages of being a niche technology that is having immense opportunity to build healthcare solutions on a wide spectrum,” says Sathya.
Initially bootstrapped, the company has also got some external funding as it was selected for Nidhi Prayas funding scheme initiated by the Govt. of India for startups.
It was also selected for Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) Entrepreneurship Development Fund initiated by Govt. of Kerala for startups and was granted a KSUM seed loan.
“We are looking to raise angel/VC/Pre-Series A funding in the next three months to enhance our platform and customer outreach internationally,” says Sathya.
The startup also has plans to expand to other cities and states in the country and create a mass outreach programme across the nation, reaching people in remote areas. Soon, it is also planning to expand outside the nation and set up therapy and R&D centres across the GCC countries, the UK, and the US.
(Edited by Megha Reddy)