David Staples: Edmonton space-age tech on path for use on NASA Mars mission
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David Staples: Edmonton space-age tech on path for use on NASA Mars mission

15/07/2022  |   137 Views

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Author of the article:David Staples • Edmonton JournalPublishing date: Jul 17, 2019•July 17, 2019•3 minute read• Join the conversation

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Scott Edgar and Chandra Devam are Edmonton’s space-age tech champions.

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They were both science fiction fanatics as kids. As adults, they’ve built an Edmonton company, Aris MD, that uses augmented reality and virtual reality software to help in diagnostics and surgery, allowing doctors to engage in “Star Trek surgery,” as Devam puts it.

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And last week in the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., their technology won NASA’s most prestigious public tech competition, the 2019 NASA iTech-Cycle I.

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NASA’s door is now open to Aris MD technology, which is on a path where it could be used in a future NASA mission to Mars.

“It was just mind-blowing,” Devam says of the NASA honour. “I could not be prouder of what we’ve done here.”

The NASA competition started three years ago to find some of the best emerging private technology from across North America. NASA hopes to incorporate this new tech into its various research programs, including its goal of future space exploration.

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In March, Devam and Edgar won a NASA competition at the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas, which led to an invitation to enter NASA’s iTech-Cycle I competition. They were chosen to be one of the 10 finalists.

David Staples: Edmonton space-age tech on path for use on NASA Mars mission

All 10 were asked to present for 30 minutes to a panel of venture capitalists and NASA judges, the organization’s chief technical officers and leading scientists.

In the presentation, Edgar told the judges the origin story of Aris MD’s technology, how a few years ago Devam was undergoing a routine operation but almost died on the operating table. “The surgeon nicked an artery because he didn’t know it was there, causing her to nearly bleed out and require a blood transfusion to save her life.”

This led Devam to wonder what had gone wrong. The answer was the surgeon could not be certain exactly where everything was inside Devam’s body, so was in effect cutting in blind.

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Right now doctors take an MRI or CT scan, then look at single cross-sectional images to try to ascertain what needs to be done, Edgar said. When doctors look at these scanned images one by one they can miss things.

The Aris MD tech takes all these scans and creates a 3D image of what the body actually looks like, which surgeons can view with augmented reality glasses or on their computer screen. Surgeons can more rapidly come to accurate diagnosis, plan and practice the surgery, and overlay the virtual reality map on the patient’s body during surgery. “They can follow the map, like Google Maps for surgery,” Edgar told the judges.

Astronauts in space won’t be able to train to be specialist surgeons in multiple disciplines. The solution is to use artificial intelligence to make a diagnoses, then use robotics systems to conduct operations in space on long-range missions, Edgar said.

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Edgar also described his company’s business model: charging a licensing fee for each hospital and surgeon touse the software. Devam is now in negotiations with U.S. healthcare providers and expects to do $2 billion in revenue in the first year, she told the judges.

The software can also be used for other applications, Edgar said, such as with construction, equipment and pipelines scans. “We can also scan things like rocket engines or jet engines looking for cracks and finding those will allow us not just to save time and money but potentially avert disaster and save lives.”

Devam has been building businesses since she was 11, Edgar said, while he had started to program at age four. “Chandra writes this beautiful sci-fi in patents and I make them real.”

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In the Q & A session, one judge asked why their software is more advanced than other companies’. Devam gave credit to Edgar. “Scott is an incredibly brilliant programmer,” she said, pointing at her business partner. “Where other companies have a bicycle, I have a Ferrari sitting in my garage. I did it with horse power.”

Edgar and Devam were overwhelmed to be honoured.

The NASA competition and connection has given Aris MD a huge boost in profile, but Devam and Edgar give back in turn. They teach a class in robotics and software programming to students at Laurier Heights K-9.

Devam is also a co-founder of Bar-Tech, a barbecue event where fledgling Edmonton tech companies meet private investors in a low-key setting.

The fourth Bar-Tech will run this Sunday at the Royal Mayfair Golf Club.

“There’s incredible technology here,” Devam says of Edmonton.

Evidently that’s true.

But perhaps none quite so incredible as Aris MD’s technology itself.

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dstaples@postmedia.com

@DavidStaplesYEG

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