Innovative minds have room to invent and fulfil their dreams

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 October, 2007, 12:00am

Bold ideas turn biometric identification technologies into traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis equipment

Students and tutors often learn valuable lessons from each other, especially at a time when computing technology is taking giant strides forward.

This is the opinion of the head of Polytechnic University's department of computing, Keith Chan Chun-chung.

The trick for students and tutors, he said, was to stay on top of the market, where ideas fermented rapidly and gained acceptance.

Then it fell to the professors to explain to students which direction to take within the context of their highly adaptable curriculum.

Professor Chan's eyes take on an unmistakable lustre when it is proposed that visiting journalists be shown the department's 'Inventions Room'.

Biometric identification technologies are being increasingly deployed at key security points around the world, but PolyU has developed a system of its own.

At first glance, it's not strikingly original, until one looks closer.

'It's more than a simple biometric eye-tester,' Professor Chan explained. 'Existing biometric eye-testers are mainly used for security authentication and are only limited to black and white images.

'Our iris identification system focuses on the application for traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis using colour images.

'Most existing biometric eye-testers are not very applicable to Asian people due to the different iris patterns and features.

'Our system, however, is specifically tailored for Asian people.'

Nearby in the Inventions Room was an extraordinary contraption into which a young student 'guinea-pig' had placed her tongue.

A digitalised image came up on a computer monitor before a smiley face appeared on the screen and, by means of a voice synthesiser, said: 'You are in excellent health'.

'The idea for the tongue-tester was very similar to that of the iris-tester,' Professor Chan said.

'Observing the colour and texture of both the tongue and iris is very important in traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis, especially for diseases such as diabetes.'

The idea for the tongue-tester came from David Zhang, the founding director of the Biometrics Technology Centre at PolyU.

It was based on a strong belief that specific unique physical traits used for security and authentication could be used for traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis as well.

Observing the appearance of the tongue to diagnose a disease is a fundamental task in the medical diagnosis process in traditional Chinese medicine.

However, all of the traditional Chinese medicine doctors are trained to diagnose a disease based on their experience.

Right now there is no objective measurement for diagnosing diseases by the appearance of the tongue.

However, using the PolyU's device testing the tongue would be useful for standardising the training for medical diagnosis in traditional Chinese medicine, Professor Chan said.

PolyU's invention is still being tested, but Professor Chan said it had proved to be effective and applicable using a large database of 19,000 tongue images showing different diseases from patients in hospitals in the mainland.

'Accuracy, at present, seems to run at just over 70 per cent and we're aiming for an even higher accuracy,' he said.

'The emphasis in future efforts will be on the commercialisation of the invention and the fine-tuning of the diagnosis equipment.'

There is another gizmo that looks like a movie prop. It is a realistic-looking detached forearm and hand poking out of a box covered in cloth.

The device allows a trained Chinese medicine practitioner to take a patient's pulse and tell if he or she is unwell or not. 'Traditional Chinese Pulse Diagnosis [TCPD] is the single most important technique in traditional Chinese medicine,' Professor Chan said.

'TCPD employs the methods of ascertaining the nature of a malady by means of taking a patient's pulse at key arterial points.

'TCPD not only deduces the positions and degree of pathological changes, but is also a convenient, inexpensive, painless, bloodless and non-invasive method with no side effects, accepted within the community of nations.

'The reason for this invention is again to facilitate and standardise the training for medical diagnosis in traditional Chinese medicine. The first version of our traditional Chinese pulse diagnosis system was in the Harbin Institute of Technology in 2001. The traditional Chinese pulse diagnosis system is the most difficult machine developed for TCPD due to its complexity and variety.'

The Inventions Room is a fertile part of the school for bold ideas, and Professor Chan said that 'a young inventive mind should be nurtured in an open, innovative environment'.

'The young inventor usually has a strong belief in his invention and is willing to challenge the world with a new thinking.

'Therefore, living or studying in an international environment and being exposed to the talent pool is critical to get the stimulation for new ideas.

'A mentoring scheme is also a prerequisite for young inventive minds, so that they know how to fulfil their dreams,' he said.