From medicine to the metaverse, the longtime oncologist forms a new business with virtual modeling technology

March 16, 2023

One day, Dr. Maria Bell predicts, there will be a form of medicine practiced in the metaverse.

The virtual universe, still in its early stages of development, lends itself to that, said Bell, a longtime gynecologic oncologist at Sanford Health.

Think about the psychology of the child, she suggests.

“I think it’s less intimidating to talk to an avatar than a human being,” said Bell, who also served on Sanford Health’s board of directors. “I think there will be medical applications in the metaverse, and that’s how I started.”

With an eye to the future of her field and a growing curiosity in emerging technology, she bought a ticket to The Sandbox, a virtual world where participants can buy virtual land and use it to create and monetize their own, mostly related to entertainment. experiences.

“I said, ‘I have to see this for myself, see this technology and what it can do.’ All the big corporate people are there. Nike. Snoop Dogg. I went to a Snoop Dogg concert in The Sandbox,” she said. “All these big-name players are there, so you know they think there’s value.”

What did he look like in health? That was not immediately clear.

But at age 60, Bell had an MBA he says he “never used” and an entrepreneurial bent that needed to be explored.

“I’ve always been an entrepreneur and an innovator, but I’ve never taken a personal financial risk,” she said. “I was like, ‘You’re 60 years old. If you don’t do it now, you won’t do it,’ and I set a limit on how much I was willing to invest.”

While she continues to work full-time in healthcare, she founded Digital Twin Imaging about a year ago — initially with the idea of ​​medical-related places, services, or assets in the metaverse. He hired Elliot Barnes, a longtime family friend and recent SDSU graduate with a degree in graphic design and an interest in new technology, and the two began learning how to use sophisticated cameras, drones and scanners.

“Elliott was assigned to scan everything he could—every relative’s house, real estate agents. we did St. Mary’s Church, and Catholic schools wanted to do the same thing for marketing purposes,” Bell said.

Then, aided by what she calls “divine intervention” and “one serendipitous thing after another,” a powerful new application for the technology emerged: school safety.

A cold call to a friend in the Okoboji Lakes area of ​​northwest Iowa put her in touch with the Dickinson County Sheriff, and she sent him a sample scan of the church.

“It was very easy for him to navigate and I said, ‘If we did a school and put information that first responders would want, do you think that would be useful?'”

Her company has now scanned every school in Dickinson County and is creating digital models that first responders can use if they need to enter during an emergency.

In addition to an immersive virtual display of the school, the model includes a real-time compass, information about fire alarms and even how long it is estimated to take to break down individual doors. A beacon can be placed in a pattern to identify where an individual is known to be located – a shooter, for example.

Barnes said he started “creating bigger and bigger models and pushing the limits of how much capacity we can fill these models with. And now, we’re scanning large high schools.”

He estimates it would take 25 hours to scan a 150,000-square-foot building with just one person doing the work, or as little as six hours with a small team. Then there’s production time, exposures with first responders, and any necessary changes.

“I know it’s going to save the lives of kids, teachers and first responders,” said Bell, who also started a nonprofit for those who want to donate to create models and potential grants.

In Iowa, state funding for schools has allowed Digital Twin Imaging to continue operating.

“We brought in consultants from SWAT, school administrators, emergency services and dispatch,” Bell said.

The proprietary aspect of the product is that the model can be deployed to first responders through existing emergency dispatch software.

“We’ve demonstrated this by having all first responders report for mandatory model training,” Bell said. “There was a geo-fenced area that once the first responder walked through, our school model was implemented on the iPhone, Android or tablet they’re carrying.”

SWAT teams in northwest Iowa and southwest Minnesota tested the model in an active shooter simulation at an elementary school, Bell said. The no-model team took an average of seven minutes and 30 seconds to put two mock rounds on target.

“Teams with the model and camera information were able to do this in an average of 31 seconds,” she said.

Greg Hiemstra, principal of Harris-Lake Park Middle School and High School; Bruce Lee, chief emergency dispatcher for the Dickinson County Sheriff’s Office and SWAT team medic; Dr. Maria Bell; Todd Schillinger, SW Minnesota/NW Iowa SWAT Team Commander; Elliot Barnes.

So far, she has done “zero marketing” and has been silent on social media about the company.

However, “I think we’re at the point where we can do marketing now because the infrastructure is in place,” Bell said. “We’re going county by county in Iowa … starting conversations there.”

He is also working on a partnership with Augustana University’s multimedia entrepreneurship major to help further develop his technology.

“The Metaverse has been around for about a decade, but it’s getting to the point where it’s easier to use,” she said. “The metaverse now is like when Facebook started to discover. There’s some functionality, but I see the vision and I see where it’s going to go.”

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