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'Russian-Born' Tech Projects to Watch

June 20, 2019

VC.ru, Russia's online platform dedicated to business, startups, innovations, marketing and technologies, has polled investors to select 37 projects originating from Russia for entrepreneur watchers and innovation spotters to follow.

The list contains both startups and going concerns in such areas as transport and logistics, business tools, medicine and biotechnology, construction, food, recruitment, financial technology, and games.

Virtual Reality Transforms Education

As the world changes so do schools, adopting innovative teaching techniques to accommodate society's new demands on education.

Take the Modum Lab software, which allows users, from schoolchildren to participants in corporate education programs, to learn a set of target skills in an immersive augmented-reality (AR) environment. Pre-university students at Far Eastern Federal University's (FEFU) Humanities and Economics College run Modum Lab as they prepare for their Chemistry and Physics examinations, simulating the most complicated chemical tests and physical experiments with plausible results. The complete hardware and software kit consists of a computer, a virtual-reality (VR) headset and  manipulators that transmit motion data to the computer via Bluetooth. Students listen to lectures and do practice work. The laboratory with its multifarious vessels and instruments is rendered in high-quality 3D animation that creates a strong sense of presence.

Aelita Akhlyustina, project manager at FEFU's NTI (National Technological Initiative) Center for Neurotechnology and Virtual and Augmented Reality Technologies, says that, while many people think of VR solely in terms of computer games, gamification is being put to good use in education. A graphic, vivid representation brings the wonderful world of science closer to children who should therefore do a better job getting ready for their exams.

Other digital technologies have also taken a firm foothold in the education market, and they are there to stay. Skyeng, a popular online English-language school, is a case in point. Co-founded by Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) graduate George Solovyev in 2012, Skyeng has emerged as this country's most valuable educational technology company ever, worth an estimated $100 mln in 2018. It offers tutorials delivered via a proprietary interactive platform, Vimbox, which uses built-in AI algorithms to 'listen in' on classes and design tailored learning paths that are suited to each student’s grammar proficiency, active and passive vocabulary, etc. 

The Joy of Shopping... for Others

Another project that has made its way onto the list is Grabr.io, which helps users find people who would, for a fee and the pleasure of doing a good turn to perfect strangers, shop for them abroad for articles that are unobtainable or too expensive in the consumers' own country. There is a social dimension to Grabr.io, too, as the parties will often stay in touch long after the order has been delivered, which helps bring tourists and locals closer together. The project, launched by Higher School of Economics (HSE University) graduate Daria Rebenok and her husband Artyom Fedyaev in 2015, is currently worth $14 mln, with Foundation Capital and Peter Thiel's Founders Fund figuring among its investors.


Helping People Back on their Feet

In the medicine and biotechnology section, two products stand out, an exoskeleton, ExoAtlet, and a robotic device for post-stroke and traumatic brain injury (TBI) rehabilitation, iBrain. 

ExoAtlet is a powered frame used for rehabilitation and social adaptation of patients with lower limb disabilities. It is put on and worn much like an ordinary suit. The neural interface for it was designed at the Center for Bioelectric Interfaces of the HSE University. The exoskeleton can be adapted to individual body measurements, such as back length, pelvic breadth, and leg length and proportion. In cases of a recent, incomplete spinal cord injury ExoAtlet can help prevent permanent disability, while for patients who have completely lost the use of their legs it can partially substitute a wheelchair.

iBrain is a brain-computer interface with AI that helps immobilized stroke and TBI patients to recover and enhance their brains' motor function by allowing them to use brain signals to control auxiliary devices, including prosthetic limbs. It was designed by graduates of the Philtech accelerator co-founded by the HSE University for projects that aim to provide technological solutions to global issues. 

The iBrain designers maintain that the therapy starts taking effect within one to three months, depending on the gravity of the injury. The direct neural interface has been trialled in Russian clinics and launched on the EC market, Spain's Sabilis being its first purchaser.

End to Banking as We Know It?

Digital technology is challenging traditional banking models, too. In 2014, MIPT graduate Nikolay Storonsky set up Revolut, which offers fee-free international money transfers converted at the interbank exchange rate, and issues payment cards. Combined, these facilities enable users to pay for goods and services, make money transfers, exchange currencies and withdraw cash from ATMs all over the globe. Revolut has 4 mln users worldwide and is valued at $1.7 bln.

In a digital age, the most extravagant project ideas can take off. Look at Looksery which came up with its offering of photo face masks some five years ago. Widespread now, this technique was then a novelty. In 2015, Looksery was bought by Snapchat for $150 mln.
Now, a group of students, under the joint instruction of MIPT and Mail.ru Group, have recently presented a design of a video player capable of arranging pieces of footage in any sequence. Who knows but that, in a few years' time, it will be creating as much buzz as the projects on the VC.ru list and raising millions of dollars in investment...