An at-home breast cancer test powered by AI has won the top prize of this year’s James Dyson Award.
The Blue Box is the invention of 23-year-old Spanish student Judit Giró Benet. Benet was prompted to design an at-home biomedical testing kit after her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Breast cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the world, but is also one of the most treatable when caught early. Unfortunately, screening procedures to test for abnormal cells are often inaccessible, costly and painful. As a result, it is estimated that 40% of women forgo breast cancer screening mammograms.
“A part of daily life”
The Blue Box aims to address the problem of inaccessibility. The at-home device gives results based off of a user’s urine sample, and uses an AI algorithm to detect early signs of breast cancer.
Aiming to empower women to “take charge of their health”, the device is described as non-invasive, pain free and non-irradiating. Benet explains that she wants the device and at-home breast cancer screening to become “a part of daily life”.
Users input their urine sample into the box, which then performs a chemical analysis. After sending the results to the cloud, the AI algorithm reacts to specific metabolites in the sample. The Blue Box is connected to a smartphone app, so if the results come back positive the user can immediately be put in touch with a medical professional.
An “electronic nose”
As well as her mother’s diagnosis of breast cancer, Benet was also inspired into action after learning the story of Blat, a dog that could detect lung cancer by smelling a patient’s breath.
Benet says the intention behind The Blue Box was to recreate Blat’s physiology using an Arduino microprocessor and sensors. The idea was to make her own “electronic nose”.
Benet began developing the design for The Blue Box in 2017 in her final year while studying in Barcelona. She has since recently finished a master’s in cyber-physical systems at the University of California Irvine, and says the £30,000 prize money will go towards patenting, expediting research and software development.
Energy come rain or shine
Alongside Benet’s win, the Dyson Award this year also recognised its first ever Sustainability Award winner. Mapua University student Carvey Ehren Maigue scooped the inaugural prize with an innovative material designed to more effectively generate renewable energy from light.
AuREUS aims to tackle issues relating to renewable energy as it is currently harvested. As Maigue explains, wind and solar energy can only be produced in very specific environmental conditions – solar panels, for example, can only capture and harvest light when facing the sun and are usually placed on prime arable farming land, meaning the space cannot be used to then grow crops.
Maigue’s material invention however uses pre-existing surfaces to harvest UV light, which can then be converted into visible light and used to generate electricity. Unlike more temperamental solar panels, AuREUS can function in sunny or cloudy weather, since the material’s particle absorb UV light which is always present.
A new use for dead crops
The material also seeks to address another problem found in Maigue’s native Philippines – crop wastage. Because of frequent severe weather disruption, farmers in the country can often lose significant amounts of produce.
Rather than leave them to rot, Maigue is using them to produce his AuREUS material. After testing 80 different local crops to use as UV absorbent compounds for his material, he found nine with potential for long-term use.
The substrate created by their crops is translucent and durable, and can be used to turn windows and walls into energy harvesting surfaces. It can also be moulded into different shapes, and Maigue is in the process of developing further applications that could be embedded onto fabrics, cars, boats and airplanes.
The runners up
Along with the two overall winners, who both have been awards £30,000 each, there were two runners up in 2020. The first was Scope, a solution to poor quality photos taken using zoomed-in smartphone cameras.
Designed by Ishan Mishra, Holden Beggs, Zhen Le Cao, Fernando J. Pena Cantu, Alisha Bhanji from the University of Waterloo, Canada, Scope uses liquid crystals confined in a cell. When voltages are applied to the crystal it allows for the lens’ optical wave front to be shaped without physical movement, thereby enabling a “lossless camera zoom”.
The additional runner up was The Tyre Collective, which won the UK Dyson Award earlier this year. A collaboration between RCA and Imperial College London students Siobhan Anderson, Hanson Cheng, M Deepak Mallaya, and Hugo Richardson, the device aims to tackle the invisible pollution dragged up by moving car tyres.
The device is fitted to the wheel of a car and uses electrostatics to collect particles as they are emitted. Once captured, the particles can be recycled and reused in new tyres or other materials like ink.