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Local company advancing virtual reality for medical training

Bill DeYoung

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Screen shot from the recent demo procedure at Baylor Surgical Hospital. (Photo: Immertec)

From his corner office in a nondescript white stucco building in South Tampa, Erik Maltais is looking into the future.

As CEO of Immertec, Inc., the 35-year-old is in possession of a revolutionary new form of proprietary VR (virtual reality) technology. Immertec has made tremendous strides in remote presence – a fully immersive 3D experience – for the lucrative medtech industry. It’s called Medoptic Virtual Surgical Observation (VSO).

“Remote presence,” he explains, “is the closest thing possible to being there. Essentially, we can make it affordable to allow any doctor, any student to remote in for consultation, and remote in to observe surgery, from anywhere in the world. To understand and learn how to do it.”

In other words, Immertec has developed a live, real time VR training system, with a full 360-degree 3D environment. A doctor in St. Petersburg can be “in the room” with a surgeon in Boston. Or Butte. Or Beijing. And observe, ask questions, study the charts, machines and monitors, do everything but physically assist (although that’s in the early stages of development, too).

The technology was invented by Maltais’ partner Jon Clagg, a Tarpon Springs-based full stack developer in automation and telecommunications.

Previous attempts at remote presence haven’t been entirely satisfactory, because of the limitations inherent in the existing cameras, lenses and computer software that drive the technology.

Erik Maltais, second from right, with members of the Immertec staff at their Tampa office. (Photo: Bill DeYoung)

“Our technology provides all the post-production in real time, and delivers it peer-to-peer,” he says, “so it doesn’t use servers, no transcoding anything, so we do it in less than 200 milliseconds.

“Basically, the reason people haven’t done it is the amount of inputs that my partner had to get through in order to do it. We have 13 pieces of intellectual property that he built, from 2012 until now, that allow us to do things that no one has ever been able to do.”

Telemedicine is a $144 billion industry … and it’s still in its infancy. This, doubtless, is why Immersive Tech was picked up for representation by Perkins Coie, the law firm that represents Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon, among other tech giants. Although Angel investors in the Tampa Bay area have started funding the company, Perkins Coie wants Maltais, Clagg and their small staff to relocate to Silicon Valley, where the big tech money is.

But they want to stay local, they insist. “We want to generate jobs in this area,” offers Maltais. “and we think this is a good area to grow this company.” The seed round has begun; the company’s startup goal is $5 million.

“Doctors,” he adds, “can put on this headset and get trained on a particular medical device, so that they don’t have to give up two days of practice, get on a plane in order to watch a five-minute minimally-invasive surgery. So it’s a huge problem that we’re fixing.”

Erik Maltais has held a number of jobs and responsibilities over the years, but he’s always been an entrepreneur.

Growing up in rural Goffstown, N.H., he started his first business at the age of 14.

“There was no ice cream truck in town,” he explains. “So I worked with this guy, who was older than me. There was a place two hours away, I told him, where they’ll sell us the ice cream, and rent us a truck for 40 bucks a day. But I need your name.”

He went downtown and got a Hawkers & Peddler’s license, the older kid rented the truck, and they hit the road. “It was all cash; we could sell it for whatever we wanted,” Maltais says. “And we made $1,000 to $5,000 a day, selling ice cream. Fourth of July, we made 30 grand. We’d have to buy more at Wal-mart, because the distributor ran out.

“Of course, the next year, there were five ice cream trucks. But it was the fact that I saw an opportunity, and it kind of bit me as a bug. I thought ‘What you need to do is find an opportunity, and then focus heavily on customers.’”

Maltais signed up for the Marine Corps to pay for his college education; he operated a machine gun as part of a convoy in Iraq. “I did 11,000 miles in nine months,” he says, and saw more than his share of combat. “Definitely a character-building experience. I saw the world in a different way. It humbles you. A lot.”

Maltais worked embassy detail in China, Paraguay and Macedonia, and was part of President Bush’s security detail during the 2008 Olympics. When he left the Corps in 2009, he’d risen to the rank of Staff Sergeant E-6.

In his youth, Maltais had spent long vacations with his grandparents in Crystal River, and he loved the area (particularly because it was a lot warmer than New Hampshire). So he bought a home in Pinellas, and enrolled at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, where he earned degrees in economics and accounting.

One profitable e-business later, he was introduced to Jon Clagg. “Jon is just one of the best people I’ve ever met,” Maltais says. “Great communicator, very talented developer. He can code for 18 hours straight.

“But what he was missing was how to get out in the world and do something – how to raise money, how to put together the corporation, understanding taxation, doing patents, coming up with a business model. And I’m not a developer!”

Clagg had ramped up his work on remote presence after Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg acquired the Occulus VR company in 2014, and began marketing affordable virtual reality headsets. “Jon had the idea that VR was going to be more than video games,” recalls Maltais. “And that’s one of the things that connected me with his vision – right, there’s something beyond escaping reality. There’s connecting people with reality.”

After successful live demos with the Cleveland Clinic, the Sinuplasty Center of Excellence in Biloxi, Ms. and Baylor Surgical Hospital in Ft. Worth, Immertec is about to sign a contract with one of the world’s largest producers of medical devices.

“I’ve been active in telemedicine for over a decade and the Medoptic platform is a game-changer in our field,” Baylor MD and EMT surgeon Marc Dean explained after the recent procedure. “In today’s test, I performed a minimally invasive septoplasty in-office and with Medoptic I was able to discuss the case with my collogues as if they were right in the room.”

And, of course, the seed round continues, for anybody looking to get in on the ground floor.

Which is why Eric Maltais is looking in to the future. From all indications, it’s rosy.

He believes he’s come up with a better mousetrap – better than 2D, better than Skype or Facetime, more effective than virtual reality as it exists today.

“A doctor needs to be able to choose what they’re looking at,” Maltais explains. “Our camera, our technology, works the same as the human brain. Our technology creates the 3D effect, same as the brain.

“So far, the feedback that we’re getting is that it provides more value, and they’re able to do higher quality patient care.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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