Chinese search engine Baidu launches AI-powered camera to detect eye fundus

The camera can detect eye fundus and generate a screening report in seconds.
By Laura Lovett
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Last week Chinese language search engine Baidu, unveiled a new artificial intelligence-powered tool aimed at detecting ocular fundus, which can lead to blindness. The latest tool, called AI Fundus Camera, will be able to screen for three types of ocular fundus diseases. 

The new AI-powered camera takes a photo and then can generate a screening report. According to the company, this photo doesn’t need to be taken by a physician.

Baidu developed the system by working with eye hospitals in China to scan for conditions such as diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration and glaucoma, it said. This experience allowed the company’s system to learn from images labelled as fundus. Eventually the system was able tor report a 94 percent sensitivity and 94 percent specificity when screening for the fundus. 

Why it matters

According to Baidu, China has a shortage of ophthalmologists. The goal of this technology is to spot this condition even if an ophthalmologist isn’t present. The company said it will donate 500 of the cameras to rural areas of China. 

What's the trend

This isn’t Baidu’s first dip in the digital health waters. Two years ago the search engine introduced Melody, an AI-powered conversational bot. The technology gathers information, responds to patients about medical conditions and gives feedback to the real-life doctors. The tool was built on the Baidu Doctor app, which was launched in 2015 and could initially allow patients to ask doctors direct questions and schedule appointments. 

Baidu isn’t the only Chinese company jumping into the digital health area Chinese insurtech company CareVoice raised $18 million in funding in 2018 and announced that it was expanding into the Hong Kong market

With 1.4 billion people, the Chinese market appears ripe for digital health. Companies from all over the world are looking to enter the market. Last year Israel-based EarlySense made a deal with Shenzhen Lachesis Mhealth in a move to expand into the Chinese market. 

But that trend includes US companies as well and now there are even programs trying to liaison this connection. In fact, the US--China Health Summit, a Harvard University affiliated program, which includes a startup competition (the US-China Health Summit Innovation Competition) helps link Western health innovators to Chinese resources. The connections include government officials and large hospitals, with some of the countries’ largest hospital CEOs judging the competition.