Can a purely tech company like Barco save human lives? The answer is 'yes, it can'. Thanks to the cumulative artificial intelligence hidden behind, for example, the innovative skin scanner Demetra.
'For Barco, investing heavily in artificial intelligence for such a long time now is, above all, an important strategic choice', says CEO Jan De Witte. 'We are convinced that we can make our technology even more valuable. More and more, the greatest added value of technology companies lies in its software, less and less in its purely electromechanical processes.'
'This shift is also largely due to the real breakthrough of artificial intelligence', says De Witte. 'For many years already, expectations were particularly high, but thanks to the exponentially increase in computing power we can gradually meet those high expectations.'
He illustrates this new approach with a concrete example. 'Imagine a control room with dozens of screens. Until a few years ago, surveillance of those screens was done with the naked eye. Today, that has become absolutely impossible, partly due to the explosion of cameras and security systems. But now, smart software is available to monitor all the screens continuously and detect any abnormality. '
'Thanks to artificial intelligence our customers can process many more information flows simultaneously and get a lot more sophisticated insights. So, consequently, we no longer speak of innovation in terms of more pixels or larger screens, but of innovative displays that offer solutions to the challenges of our clients' industry or discipline.'
This new focus has a strong impact on Barco's product development. 'We have been producing highly sophisticated medical displays for many years,' says Tom Kimpe, VP technology and innovation. 'With the breakthrough of artificial intelligence, our clients in that field - radiologists and hospitals - look almost exclusively for the added value that such a display can offer them in their daily practice. So, our product management and engineering departments must first understand what their precise needs are. To do so, we sometimes ask our engineers to spend half a day in the radiology department of a large hospital.'
An innovative concrete result of this new strategy is Demetra, a small and mobile skin scanner. After extensive testing with various clinical partners Barco expects Demetra to get the official green light from the EU by this spring. 'The dermatologists involved in the tests were quite enthusiastic', says Kimpe.
'Up until now they were looking for suspicious skin spots with a kind of dermatoscope. From a technological viewpoint, these devices were not particularly advanced. With this in mind, and with our vast expertise in medical imaging, we started searching for a brand new technology. And since it was a novelty market for us, we worked in close collaboration with many dermatologists.'
Suspicious skin spots
The biggest innovation of Demetra? The device simultaneously makes a dozen pictures in different wavelengths of light. This not only leads to much better quality images, it gives the doctor much more information about the skin spot. Kimpe: 'Thanks to this device, dermatologists can document suspicious skin spots much faster and more efficiently. On top of that, they cannot only monitor the evolution of certain skin spots more accurately, they can also analyse and interpret suspicious skin spots more accurately, thanks to the opportunities given to them by the combination of image processing and deep learning - for example by comparing the spots with tens of thousands previously made samples.' This is exactly what artificial intelligence can offer us: it helps the doctor to acquire an image that he can translate into a possible diagnosis. 'We cannot emphasize it enough: our intention is not to replace the dermatologist, nor to develop this product as a self-care device. But, the additional information will effectively enable the doctor to work much faster and with a much greater degree of precision. We are therefore confident that this innovation, a world first, can be a huge step forward in the early detection of skin cancers.'