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winning team
February 20, 2020

ECE team wins Foxconn Smart Cities-Smart Futures competition

Written By: Jason Daley

Google Glass, the wearable technology that debuted in 2013 and fizzled out in 2015, was one of the most divisive pieces of tech in the last decade. Some people found the augmented reality glasses creepy, a little too nerdy, or not worth their four-digit price tag. But the digital specs were a hit in some niche markets, like the healthcare sector, where doctors used the technology to take notes, aid in diagnoses, and even help in surgery. That’s why Tianen Chen, a PhD student studying with Electrical and Computer Engineering Assistant Professor Younghyun Kim in the Wisconsin Embedded Systems and Computing Laboratory (WISEST), is working on a new type of augmented reality glasses designed just for the healthcare industry.

The project, called ReadyVue: Energy Efficient Smart Glasses for Healthcare Applications, won the smart healthcare category of the Foxconn Smart Cities-Smart Futures competition in December 2019.

The original Google Glass was not designed with healthcare practitioners in mind, Chen says. Things like short battery life and a lack of applications limited its use. But ReadyVue is being designed for healthcare applications from the ground up. Chen’s team hopes to use binary neural networks to run the device, and that will dramatically reduce energy use and increase battery life. The students are also developing machine learning algorithms that are designed specifically for use in hardware like the glasses.

The specs will do much more than take notes. “Convolutional neural networks are already doing image classification better than a human can,” Chen says. “So, think of that related to breast cancer scans, for example. A lot of times we’re still using the eye test for judging whether a tumor is malignant or not. What we want to do is have these glasses on doctors so they don’t have to rely on the eye test alone, and reduce the amount of false positives.”

The other application he would like to work on is image recognition to help in autism behavioral therapy. “So, instead of a practitioner wearing the glasses, you give them to a patient,” Chen says, “and they can help an autistic child who may have trouble recognizing emotions.”

A possible third application he is investigating is screening for cardiac arrhythmias.

The prize money that comes with the Foxconn award will help develop the first prototype of the glasses. Chen’s team members, fellow WISEST lab members Setareh Behroozi, Jingjie Li, John Rupel and undergraduate researcher Taylor Kemp, have complimentary specialties in security, wearable technology, and machine learning. “I think that we all have the right pieces to make a prototype come together pretty nicely,” he says.

Besides recruiting a stellar team, he says he had another secret weapon in winning the competition. He took an entrepreneurship bootcamp for grad students through the university’s Morgridge Center for Public Service in summer, and that changed his perspective on the project and helped him develop the business and marketing plans included in the contest package. “I think that gave me a leg up in this competition because not a lot of STEM people are educated in the business sector,” he says.

He hopes focusing on healthcare will also give him an advantage if and when his glasses are ready for market. “The reason why Google Glass failed is because it was not developed correctly for the right sector,” says Chen. “So, I think niche development is crucial to product success, at least in certain cases.”