Waterloo teen's eye-care project wows at international science fair

A 15-year-old student from Waterloo, Ont., impressed judges at a prestigious international science fair this month with his project: a telehealth platform aimed at making eye care cheaper and more accessible.

Speculor is designed for use in places where eye care is hard to access

Hardit Singh wowed judges at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists with his project: a platform that aims to make it easier and less expensive to diagnose diseases of the eye. (Submitted by Hardit Singh)

A 15-year-old student from Waterloo, Ont., has impressed judges at a prestigious international science fair with his project: a telehealth platform that he hopes will make eye care cheaper and more accessible. 

Hardit Singh's platform, called Speculor, won second prize at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists. Countries from around the world send their best science-fair projects to the competition, which was held earlier this month in Salamanca, Spain. 

"There are so many great projects, and to be recognized among them, I feel honoured and proud," said Singh, who is a Grade 10 student at Cameron Heights Collegiate and attended the competition remotely.

Speculor uses a portable imager to take photos of the eye and artificial intelligence (AI) to screen for disease. It costs about $300 — far less than the closest comparable medical device, a fundus camera, which can cost up to $5,000. 

Inspired by a friend

Singh said he became interested in ophthalmology after a friend's detached retina went misdiagnosed for a long time. 

"That really got me interested — like, if this can happen in a richer and more developed area like Waterloo, what could the conditions be like in other areas which don't have as much access?" said Singh. 

The first two prototypes of Singh's eye-care platform Speculor, which recently won second prize at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists. (Submitted by Hardit Singh)

Singh said the technology could be particularly useful for field workers with international non-governmental organizations, who could bring it to remote villages and quickly test many different patients at once. 

"Then the AI would be able to classify and see which patients need extra help," said Singh.

"That would be the idea — of bringing the care to the patient — instead of the patient having to go to some tertiary expensive hospital to get the same care." 

Singh said the tool could also be useful in rural and remote parts of Canada, where eye care is inaccessible. 

Screening for glaucoma

At this point, Singh said the technology is mainly intended to diagnose glaucoma — the second-leading cause of blindness worldwide, according to the World Health Organization — but down the road he believes it could also be used for conditions like retinal detachment and macular degeneration. 

The word Speculor is drawn from a Latin term that means "to watch" or "to explore," which Singh said also summed up the main thrust of his project. 

"I'm trying to help people have the ability to see," he said. 

"And when I was developing my project, I did a lot of exploration, so I thought that word really summed up ... the entire process of science as well."

Singh said he hopes to soon create his own company and get Speculor out in the real world. He's using the €5,000  (C$7,500) in prize money from the competition for that purpose — and is saving some for university. 

He also hopes to continue competing, with the Canadian Physics Olympiad next on his to-do list. 

"I've become a lot more interested in physics … so I think that's what my next goal is for the future," he said. 

Listen to the full interview:


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