The smartphone company through its AI platform intends to create strong partnerships and develop customer-centric innovations to tap new healthcare markets
By Raelene Kambli
Digital technologies have made the global healthcare business environment extremely fascinating. While in the last few years we saw corporate behemoths such as Apple, IBM, Microsoft, Samsung, Amazon, JP Morgan, Berkshire Hathaway, venturing into healthcare with specialised technologies to create value, similarly Huawei, the ICT infrastructure company is taking several strides to increase its healthcare technology offering in global markets. The company’s primary strategy is to develop customer-centric innovations and create strong partnerships in the healthcare space. Interestingly, the company will enter the Indian healthcare market with its Track AI product soon.
Huawei’s healthcare partnerships
In the past, the company had partnered with Philips and developed a cloud healthcare solution primarily for second-tier cities in China, which would provide high-quality cloud healthcare services to communities that lacked advanced healthcare systems. This solution integrates Philips’ personal healthcare, disease diagnosis and treatment, management expertise and system platform with Huawei’s complete IT infrastructure, IoT connectivity and cloud AI capabilities to increase efficiency and accuracy of diagnostics and treatments.
Again in March 2019, Huawei partnered with Yitu Healthcare to develop an intelligent healthcare cloud backed by AI that can integrate healthcare data into efficiency and effectiveness. At the Mobile World Congress (MWC2019) this year, Huawei’s Deputy Chairman, Ken Hu, disclosed the launch of Huawei’s digital inclusion plan “Tech4All” and three key actions: Connect, apply, and skill, and put forward the goal “5 years for 500 million people to benefit from digital technology’. In Line with this vision, the company has partnered with leading research institute, IIS Aragon and DIVE Medical — a startup, to co-create an AI-powered assessment for early signs of visual impairment. They call it Track.AI, an initiative to provide a unique value for visual impairment children community to make sure nobody is left behind.
Now, IIS Aragon is a consortium of Miguel Servet University Hospital and the University of Zaragoza, Spain. Researchers and senior ophthalmologist Victoria Pueyo and Engineers Marta Ortin, Belen Masia, Diego Gutierrez, and Jose Ignacio Echevarría from these institutions have founded the DIVE Medical startup, which has designed a device to help ophthalmologist make more timely, accurate diagnoses and better decisions about treatment to prevent blindness. The reason for Huawei to partner with these institutions and start-up is to promote Track.AI, globally. Additionally, data is being collected in China, Mexico, the UAE, Spain and Vietnam. The device is currently being used for research. The DIVE team is right now finishing the validation phase and will shortly begin the regulatory process.
Explaining the rationale behind this initiative, Tornado Pan, Country Manager (Huawei Brand), Consumer Business Group, Huawei India, informs, “The pace of technology moves very fast and we want to make sure that nobody is left behind. Technology is for everyone and it should enrich people’s lives. We hope that people begin to understand the positive nature of AI and how together with humanity, we can make truly amazing changes that make a real impact on people. The world needs a way to diagnose early childhood blindness – one that’s portable, inexpensive and easy to use.” Huawei is funding the Track.AI project.
What’s so unique about Track.AI
According to the Huawei, many visual problems remain undiagnosed until it is too late, giving rise to visual, educational and social consequences in children. The introduction of AI in DIVE will help identify visual disorders in early stages, without the need of highly experienced physicians or medical settings. Non-trained people could run the test for many children from six months of age anywhere, using a fast and portable tool, and identify those with visual problems who need to be referred to an ophthalmologist.
DIVE has developed tests to identify visual problems in children by exploring gaze patterns on carefully designed visual stimuli. A huge amount of accurate and objective data of the gaze position of the patient is obtained using DIVE’s eye tracking capabilities. This data is directly related to the patient’s visual function: oculomotor control, visual acuity, contrast sensitivity and colour perception.
The DIVE (Devices for an Integral Visual Examination) device, built with a HUAWEI Matebook E Hybrid laptop, has eye tracking capabilities which allow it to know the point of the screen the patient is looking at with high precision. DIVE communicates with a HUAWEI smartphone (HUAWEI P30), which the doctor will use to control the system and manage gaze data collection. The captured gaze data is analysed and passed onto the smartphone app via Bluetooth. The smartphone will then run the AI algorithm to estimate the probability for the patient to have certain visual pathologies. This result is used by the doctor to determine what specialist care is needed.
Giving more details on the project and Huawei’s plans, Pan adds, “Track AI leverages AI and is an eye tracking device that also puts children’s lives back on track. The project, Track.AI is part of Huawei’s wider commitment to push the boundaries of what is humanly possible and use AI for good. This project makes it easier to detect visual impairments in a faster and more efficient way. Through this project, Huawei is continuing to promote digital inclusion and would like more partners to join and more projects could be driven by the digital inclusion effort.”
Further on, he informs that the Track.AI system is designed to examine several aspects of visual performance, which cannot be assessed by traditional examinations, especially when the patient is too young. The Track.AI application helps doctors facilitate highly-skilled diagnosis through the contained AI algorithm inside the app. This means that a local doctor can get a good idea of which patients need expert care using this tool and can easily identify any serious impairments accurately as well as predict future issues.
How will DIVE solve critical health issues and which areas of ophthalmology will they focus on?
Pan explains, “This combination unleashes the potential not only to measure the visual function, but also to estimate the probability of the patient having a certain pathology. Track.AI will identify disorders such as strabismus, significant refractive error, media opacity, retinal disorder, optic nerve disorder, or cerebral visual impairment. The sophisticated HiAI platform performs at an ultra-high function resulting in a greater degree of accuracy.”
The fact that Track.AI is currently being researched in different decree to acquire regulatory approvals, we asked Huawei to expound on the research done during the development phase. Replying to the same, Pan further explains, “Before this collaboration with Huawei, the DIVE team had run tests with more than 2,000 children, with a very wide range of visual and developmental issues. Researchers from DIVE are currently publishing these findings in high-impact medical journals. First, they are reporting visual behaviour in children with normal visual development, which will allow them to identify those showing abnormal patterns. They have examined hundreds of children with different visual problems, and their research group is finding main visual outcomes providing earlier disease diagnosis and better follow-up.”
The final launch plan
After all the regulatory approvals, Huawei plans to introduce this device to ophthalmologist and paediatricians around the world so that they can perform more accurate and faster explorations of visual functions and produce earlier diagnosis of visual pathologies. The company also has a blueprint prepared to organise training programmes to empower non-trained people to identify children who may have visual impairments and to refer them to a specialist who can treat them.
Success in the Indian market
Going forward, Huawei will need to develop a good strategy to introduce this device in India. The reason is, currently India has a huge startup community and innovators who are already working and developing such technologies for Indian patients and are ready to sell these products at low costs. The challenge will be to compete with such companies and ensure that they provide value to Indian customers. In India, Huawei is one of the fastest growing smartphone brands. It currently has around 4.5 per cent of the smartphone market, as per IDC, while Counterpoint Research puts its share at around 3.5 per cent. However, the recent news about US major Google deciding to suspend ties with the company may cause a dip in sales. Nevetheless, if the company manages to resolve these issues, this fast growing smartphone company can have a better brand recall and since, the Track.AI is well integrated with the Huawei smartphone, it will have a higher advantage than other devices.