Innovation Medal Winner 2015

Professor Rick Beatson – UC Innovation Medal Winner

Innovative prosthetics bring new independence

Algorithms developed by Professor Rick Beatson have been used by local company Applied Research Associates New Zealand Limited (ARANZ) in software for its handheld scanner.

The combination of software and scanner means amputees can receive individualised custom manufactured prosthetics, instead of mass produced ones. Since its development, the orthotics and prosthetics industry has been widely using this new technology.

Dr Beatson says this is deeply satisfying.

“Not many mathematicians have their abstract mathematics applied so directly to helping others”.

Literally get back on their feet

ARANZ Medical CEO Dr Bruce Davey says the company’s technology developed by Dr Beatson and his team helps bring independence to those with disabilities and physical challenges.

An example is New Zealand alpine skier and Paralympic gold medallist Adam Hall.

“By digitally scanning Adam’s leg using FastSCAN, we developed a 3D model which was used to help in the design of new skiing supports for him,” says Dr Davey.

The need for personalised prosthetics is growing. This is due to the rise in chronic diseases such as diabetes, which can lead to amputations for sufferers of debilitating foot ulcers.

Dr Davey says being able to help numerous people is highly rewarding.

“It’s exciting to see lives being transformed as people literally get back up on their feet with the help of our systems.”

Dr Beatson agrees, adding another reward of creating the technology is the employment opportunities it has brought.

“Overall, perhaps the biggest thrill has been to see my mathematics play its part in creating 109 jobs in Christchurch and 46 overseas.”

Willing to take a risk

Dr Beatson says that this long-term project had many aspects to it.

The project began with the enjoyable but intense work of developing new theoretical mathematics concerning Radial Basis Functions in collaboration with various international collaborators and graduate students, he says. Chief among these were Dr Newsam (DSTO Adelaide), professors Powell (from Cambridge), Light and Levesley (both from Leicester), and graduate students, doctors Jon Cherrie and Cameron Mouat.

Following the initial development of the Radial Basis Functions techniques, he collaborated with extremely talented engineers at the Christchurch company ARANZ.

“Due to their skills in both engineering and mathematics and their openness to new ideas, they were willing to take the risk of adopting my new methods. They strengthened them and applied them to problems in scanning for the manufacture of prosthetic devices and to software that makes substantial improvements in the mining exploration industry.”

As Dr Beatson collaborated with the ARANZ team, he was able to continue working with UC alumni.

Innovation awarded

Dr Beatson’s success was recognised late last year when he was awarded with the Innovation Medal at the annual Chancellor’s Dinner.

The Innovation Medal is awarded annually by the University of Canterbury for excellence in transforming knowledge and ideas so they are adopted by the wider community in ways that contribute beneficial value. It is the University’s highest recognition of an outstanding innovation and is of similar prestige and standing to the UC Research Medal and UC Teaching Medal.

“I am very grateful to the University for this recognition of the applied side of my work, and to the teams at ARANZ Geo and ARANZ Medical for the opportunity to collaborate on so many fascinating real world problems.”

Dr Beatson continues to work on projects which are transforming healthcare.

For example, he is currently working on methods which, given only data, automatically create optimal local approximations and then combine them.

“Such methods would be useful, for example, in minimal dose tomography (X-raying), whereby a good image of a tumour could be obtained at minimal cost to the patient in terms of radiation dosage.”

Rick Beatson research profile