Camera device could enhance patients’ visual awareness

A BAE apprentice project has developed a visual-aid device for patients with restricted movement.

The device will help injured soldiers returning from Afghanistan to see their environment without moving their head.

The system, dubbed ‘Inviso’ and built at BAE System’s Rochester plant, uses a combination of three cameras, connected to a 12.1in anti-glare LCD screen, to give the soldier unrestricted views of the hospital ward; thus enabling them to see neighbouring patients and visitors, and to help with basic needs such as eating and shaving.

Steven Costin, BAE apprentice and project leader, told The Engineer: ‘The patient has 100 per cent control. They can decide exactly which of the three cameras they want to use, for how long, and if they want it on at all.’

The patient can control the system through a tap-recognition or voice-recognition mode. The latter was designed for patients with particularly limited movement capability.

‘The tap option involves a pressure sensor that is clicked with any part of the patient’s body. That click informs the system that the patient wants to open a new view or close the current one,’ explained Costin.

The voice recognition relies on the system’s ability to identify certain commands. For example, ‘camera one’ opens the camera facing directly in front of the patient, while saying ‘close’ will shut it down.

Inviso has been designed to run off mains power but it can also operate for four-to-five hours on batteries in the event of a power cut.

The £850 prototype model was developed in conjunction with the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, the home of the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine, where they identified a need to update their current solution.

Having used the current £1,500 system, which uses two mirrors that reflect off one another to provide the patient with a tunnel view in front of them, Costin concluded that it was hard for the patient to adjust their view. He explained how having to ask a nurse to move it for them can be both time consuming and frustrating.

Costin and his team of five were given access to the hospital’s facilities and the opportunity to speak to the staff, to see what they thought of the team’s design ideas.

He had several ideas on how the visual-aid device could be further developed if more time was available. ‘Hooking it up to the internet would allow patients to conduct Skype video calls with friends and family at home,’ said Costin.

‘If the standard 12.1in screen was replaced with a HD screen, it would improve patient’s viewing experience and allow them to watch movies,’ he added.

There are also plans to integrate the system beyond the realms of hospital wards.

‘There’s no reason why this system can’t be used in care homes and people’s own homes as well,’ said Costin, explaining how it could even be used by patients to see who was at their front door or to have conversations with a virtual nurse.

Inviso recently won BAE’s biannual Apprentice Innovation Challenge, which involved 60 BAE apprentices aged between 19 and 24. They have all worked on projects over the last nine months.

It was judged by a Dragon’s-Den-style panel of experts, comprising medical experts and senior engineering staff from BAE Systems.