3 UC Berkeley graduate students named finalists in 2018 Collegiate Inventors Competition

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A team that includes three UC Berkeley graduate students was named a finalist in the 2018 Collegiate Inventors Competition, an annual contest that rewards innovation and research conducted by college students and faculty advisers.

The 11 teams chosen this year as finalists will travel to the United States Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia on Nov. 16 to present their inventions to a panel of judges. Established in 1990, the Collegiate Inventors Competition has awarded more than $1 million to 183 of “the country’s most innovative collegiate students” over the last 27 years, according to the National Inventors Hall of Fame website.

“Really, the major element they’re looking for is projects leading to inventions that have a potential of receiving a patent protection,” said National Inventors Hall of Fame public relations coordinator Ken Torisky. “This year, we have inventions that range from medical devices to inventions that can be used for agriculture, as well as one to protect our water resources.”

This year, the competition is offering the People’s Choice Award, which awards the winning group with a prize of $1,500.

UC Berkeley graduate students Federico Álvarez del Blanco, John Kim and Hector Neira — along with UC San Diego graduate student Robert Kim — invented a new device called VIDI, which uses image recognition to keep track of surgical instruments. The VIDI system, which provides camera-mounted devices in the operating room, scans the surgical tray, recognizes the instruments and keeps track of them so users know if anything is missing.

VIDI is aimed at reducing hospital costs and making surgical instrument management less complicated, Álvarez del Blanco said. He added that some of the technical difficulties the group faced included accuracy issues and training machines with large data sets.

To understand the core problem of surgical instruments in hospitals, the group interviewed between 120 and 150 users, such as medical technicians, operating nurses and sterilization managers.

“Understanding what the users need was the challenge — trying to really understand what’s needed, and making sense of all this info, firsthand info, and turn it into something that could help the majority of them,” Neira said. “As a team, we’ve been working on this for a year and a half, and last year we put in the effort to actually build something.”

The group has been recognized by various competitions and awards, such as the Haas School of Business Dean’s Seed Fund for prototype development, the NEC Innovative Solutions Fair, the Big [email protected] competition and the National Science Foundation I-Corps grant.

“We were very excited to move on this November, because it’s a great opportunity to connect with other inventors in the United States, both undergraduate and graduate students, and also judges who are very relevant,” Álvarez del Blanco said. “They are big scientific minds. It’s going to be interesting to meet them.”

Contact Bella An at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @BellaAn_dc.