Emergensee glasses win top invention award

Spectacles that can be adjusted by the user to address near- or far-sightedness win their developer top honours as the most innovative invention from Asia-Pacific.
John Major (left) with the finalists (Photo: Gareth Jones)

Eyeglasses that John Major described as “astonishing in what they can do, but not the epitome of cool fashion” were judged yesterday as the most innovative invention from Asia-Pacific this year and earned their developer, Adlens, the gold award at a function held at the Four Seasons hotel in Hong Kong.

“It’s always disappointing to those who don’t win but, as with the Oscars, it is an honour to be nominated,” said Major. “Innovation is extraordinarily important and is our future.” The former British prime minister has been a senior adviser to Credit Suisse since 2001 and flew into Hong Kong for the event.

The judges, led by Adam Smith, director of product management for Asia-Pacific at Google, chose 12 finalists from a total of 256 entries: Hutchison MediPharma and IBM Corp from China, the University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and Ximplar and the Chinese University of Hong Kong from Hong Kong, Adlens and Toshiba from Japan, Miniwiz Sustainable Energy from Taiwan, plus five from Singapore: Awak Technologies, Excelpoint Technology, the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, the Institute of Materials Research & Engineering and Optiqua Technologies.

Singapore’s strong representation perhaps shows that the government’s drive to attract inventors and innovators by providing both enabling infrastructure and funding is yielding dividends.

Yesterday, the four companies in contention for the gold, silver and bronze awards were part of a discussion moderated by Major.

Adlens innovation, Emergensee, is a pair of spectacles that can change power using a patented liquid lens, allowing the wearer to adjust for both near-sightedness and far-sightedness. “There are 44 million people in the world who are blind, of which 38 million can be helped to see either through an operation or the use of glasses,” said Major. The judges found this invention the most innovative, awarding it gold.

The silver award was presented to Singapore’s Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, which has developed IBN MicroKit, a portable device to diagnose infectious diseases more quickly. Jackie Ying, who founded IBN in 2003 upon her return to Singapore from the US, said that Sars was one of her inspirations to develop the product.

The bronze award went to Ximplar and CUHK for developing the ACEhearing device, which comprises software that can be embedded in consumer electronics to enhance audibility for people who are hard of hearing. Major was obviously impressed with the invention, citing the estimated 38% of people in the world with some degree of hearing loss and who could benefit from applications of this invention. And so were the assembled guests, comprising invitees of Credit Suisse, Dow Jones and the nominees, who gave the invention the audience choice award. This was a first-time award, based on votes from the assembled audience on their favourite innovation.

Rounding out the citations announced yesterday were the Credit Suisse Technopreneur of the Year award, which honours the entry that best applies technology with the greatest potential for commercial success. This was awarded to Toshiba for developing the world’s first LCD TVs that offer comprehensive 3D capabilities without any need for dedicated glasses. “Where can TV go after this? Is any further innovation possible?” quipped Major, while introducing Toshiba’s invention. Major also went on to query whether Toshiba’s invention would be able to do something to improve the quality of TV programming.

The awards aim to find the next big idea from the region and encompass both new inventions and advancements of existing ideas. Entries were judged on three criteria: level of creativity or degree of innovation, quality of execution, and potential impact on quality of life or productivity. The awards are open to individuals, small businesses, large corporations and academia.

In 2010, the awards, which are presented by the Wall Street Journal and have been sponsored by Credit Suisse for the past two years, attracted nearly 300 entries. The top prize was awarded to India’s Tata Chemicals for its development of the Tata Swach Nanotech Water Purifier — a low-cost, portable “bulb” that purifies untreated water with paddy husks and nano-silver particles.

“It is nice to spend an evening with people who make the world a better place,” said Francesco de Ferrari, who takes over as Credit Suisse’s Asia-Pacific head of private banking in January. De Ferrari, who is based in Singapore, is currently deputy head to Marcel Kreis.

Credit Suisse ended the evening by gifting everyone in the audience a pair of Emergensee glasses. The money Adlens makes from the glasses will benefit Vision for a Nation, a programme to provide universal access to eyeglasses starting in Rwanda. “I see many of you trying on your glasses and as an Italian with a keen sense of fashion I am sure they will soon be cutting edge,” said de Ferrari in closing.

¬ Haymarket Media Limited. All rights reserved.
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