A GROUP of North East students developing a system which can spot eye conditions using a smartphone have won the attention of one of the world's biggest companies.
Riccardo Viglianisi, Faizan Asghar and Vimansha Weyhenage of Northumbria University and Colin Squires of Newcastle College have developed the idea of a mobile app which analyses pictures of the human retina, a concept which could potentially save millions from sight loss.
The group – known as Team Eyeworks – has been chosen to represent the UK in the final of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup, an annual competition that challenges students to create technology which solves a major world issue. The overall winner will be chosen at the worldwide final in Australia in July.
The team’s victory was part of a one-two for North East entries. Team Teesside 0x32 came second in the UK with its Cloud Doctor idea, which connects healthcare workers in the developing world with specialists and doctors willing to volunteer their time.
Team Eyeworks says the system provides a “cheap, rugged diagnostics tool” that can identify the early symptoms of sight loss at low cost. It is being set up initially to tackle cataracts, a clouding of the lens of the eye that the World Health Organisation says is responsible for 51% of world blindness.
Riccardo Viglianisi said: “The idea is that an aid worker is provided with our kit, attaches it to the phone and holds the camera against the eye. That image will then be analysed for a variety of symptoms, and if there’s connectivity, it will also be uploaded to the cloud server to compare it with databases of known cataract images.
“The life expectancy of people who go blind in developing nations is a third of what it would be otherwise. A lot of people die of starvation. But if someone’s diagnosed early enough with cataracts, treatment can be scheduled through the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders.”
The team is currently working on the software for the system, and adapting a lens attachment originally developed by Northumbria researchers Joe Allen and Phil Byrne. It expects to have a demonstration model working by July, and believes the concept can also be used to spot other eye disorders as well as problems such as skin conditions.
This year’s worldwide winner of the Imagine Cup will receive a top prize of over £15,000, with second place getting £6,000 and third receiving £3,000. Both Eyeworks and Teesside 0x32 reached the UK final via a regional heat arranged by Codeworks and Sunderland Software City.
Codeworks communications executive Emilia Flockhart said the organisation was “incredibly proud of all the teams who put themselves forward”.
She said: “They all worked exceptionally hard on their projects, and we are thrilled to see that the hard work has paid off not just for Team Eyeworks, but for many of the other teams who gained invaluable employment contacts”.
Software City’s CEO David Dunn said: “Having two teams from the North East come first and second in such a prestigious national competition highlights the wealth of software talent and innovation we have here in the region.”