Non-contact screening and detection of the likelihood of harbouring underlying medical problems seems quite futuristic. However, companies like Xerox are in the process of turning this into a reality with their work on image processing and data collection solutions to expedite the diagnostic process.
This may seem surprising to some as the synonymity of Xerox with photocopiers is hard to dispel but today, over 60 per cent of Xerox's revenue comes from services and healthcare is the largest vertical with the company doing business worth over $2 billion in the segment annually.
Nudged by the declining market for printing, the move towards services is quite recent, starting around five years ago when the company, under the leadership of current CEO Ursula Burns, acquired Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), a provider of IT services.
"Having experience with printing and scanning, image processing and computer vision was something that we knew. Once ACS was acquired we began asking where we could apply this expertise and, naturally landed on healthcare and transport", says Manish Gupta, Vice President at Xerox Corporation and Director of Xerox Research Centre in India, talking about why the company ventured into these fields.
Innovation and research in these fields is something that Xerox's research facility in Bengaluru is concentrating on.
"Our research in non-contact screening began as a collaboration with Manipal University's Kasturba Medical College," says Gupta, "In a neonatal unit in the hospital you can automatically monitor the baby based on certain parameters like- temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate- this is something that has already been done to a reasonable degree."
The Xerox Research Centre in India (XRCI) is actually the first of its kind to be set up in an emerging market outside North America and Europe for Xerox. Initially set up with the intention of being an innovation hub to connect researchers in the US and Europe with the research ecosystem in the country, Bengaluru based centre was eventually upgraded to a full fledged research centre. "We have researchers who are trying to do things like blood pressure measurements of people, simply through a camera", says Gupta.
Xerox sees immense potential in this approach of using imaging to monitor body vitals and check for internal anomalies."When we are looking at a large population, where there is little or no access to healthcare, this has the potential of being a non-disruptive way of early segregation of those who are potentially at risk and those who are not, and those who require immediate medical attention from those who do not", says Satish Prasad Rath, the Chief Innovation Manager for Healthcare Research of the Xerox Innovation Group.
An example of conditions that can be detected through such an approach is atrial fibrillation, which according to Gupta, Xerox's research has shown can be detected simply through a webcam and an analysis of the images that are captured.
"Of course there are still challenges to see if it works well under all conditions. It does work well under ideal conditions- when people are not moving and all and good lighting. So lets say that you have to capture the heart rate- it will only happen when a person is stationary and under good lighting conditions," says Gupta.
Another thing that the Bengaluru centre is actively working on is breast cancer screening based on the use of thermal cameras. "Purely through the camera you can capture the thermal activity in the region and analyse those thermal images to try and understand if there is a malignant or a benign tumour or simply normal tissue", Gupta explains.
For all of these pre-emptive screening solutions, portability, safety(being radiation free), ease of access and accuracy are the boxes Xerox researchers want to check. And thermal cameras, being cheaper than the screening devices currently being deployed, will make this cost-effective. So how does it work? Each cell produces heat and if there is a tumourous growth, blood gushes to that area and research has shown that those areas tend to be hotter. This is something that the thermal camera, very precisely has the ability to pick up.
"For example, if the nipple is hotter, an unusual area is hotter or serial images show that an area is getting hotter and hotter, we can detect the likelihood of breast cancer, after which further tests to confirm the same can administered," says Rath.
However, all this is still at the research stage and Xerox first wants to gather conclusive data about its accuracy and the likelihood of churning out false positives, a problem that was earlier encountered in the study of thermography.
To ensure that false positives are not rampant, Xerox researchers are applying 'machine learning', which allows machines to experientially get smarter by fine tuning its own algorithms based on the data it is exposed to over time.
Other things that Xerox is working on are transportation solutions such as optimisation of bus scheduling and a teaching aid to help teachers pull out the relevant videos from open source learning websites.