IBit Software Ltd

Peter Blanchfield

I graduated in Physics with Electronics at Liverpool University then continued to a PhD in Solid State Physics at Bath. On completing my PhD I worked for 4 years at the NEL in East Kilbride where I worked in robotics and automation. In the end the cold and snow in Scotland drove us weak Southerners out and I took a post in the Electrical and Electronic Engineering Department as the first IT Lecturer in the University of Nottingham. At the end of my first year there I spent a semester at UKM in Malaysia. That is where I fully fell in love with South East Asia. A few years later my family moved to the Philippines where I worked as a teacher (mostly of computer science) at Faith Academy - just outside Manila. My main achievements there were to learn Tagalog and coach the women's soccer team to the league title and trophy of the Universities' League in Manila.

Ten years after leaving Nottingham I returned to staff there as part of the team that set up the Malaysia Campus of the University of Nottingham. I started as Director of Laboratories - responsible for setting up the Engineering Labs as well as teaching on the EE degree. When the then head of the Division of Computer Science at the campus left in the middle of our second year of operation I was persuaded to take over that role.

About that time the process of setting up the permanent campus started. Paul Boardman arrived as the registrar of the campus and claims to have been there at the leaving party for the former head of the CS Division. Paul was responsible for most of the setting up of that campus. The only contributions I can remember making of any real significance to that was insisting that we used fibre optic connections - having experience of what lightning can do in the tropics - and pointing out that the Mechanical Engineering Lab should not be on the first floor as there would be no way of getting the equipment up there without taking the windows out!

After 5 years I left the role there and came back to the UK campus where I was made Director of the IT Institute. The teaching on the MSc in IT and MSc in the Management of IT were taught by the staff of the Institute. However, decisions by the then Head of School made that unsustainable. Computer Science staff generally complained that they did not want to supervise these IT projects so the degrees were eventually abandoned. I had already changed to being Senior Tutor by that time.

I gave up the role of Senior Tutor when I became involved with the I-BiT project. (See the I-BiT web site for more details.) This project was a major undertaking. Hiring staff from games companies like Ubisoft made it possible to develop a really professional version of what had been done before. My main value to the project has been to translate the requirements of our medical lead, Prof. Alexander Foss - or Alex, into language the developers could understand.

The reason I was able to contribute directly to the project was my background interest in developing games. Most of what I had developed games for at the time were for educational purposes. However, my original work in games after returning to the UK had been in theraputic games. I helped two of my PhD students develop games for treating children with issues related to conduct disorder. This also led to my involvement with a Microsoft Games company and the early development of the Microsoft XNA programme. Unfortunately that came to an end. Fortunately Unity 3D became available and this was the tool used in much of the I-BiT work.

The I-BiT project was designed to develop a new approach to treating "Lazy eye" - or as Alex calls it "Amblyopia". This was of particular interest to me because I have a lazy eye! The ideas behind the project were mostly sound.

So what problems has I-BiT had? The first was that we had made the mistake that so many developers of games for serious purposes make. Keeping children entertained is significantly difficult. One of the big problems the traditional treatment for lazy-eye has is compliance. That treatment - the one I had undergone as a child - is to penalise the strong eye. For my treatment and the one most children get it is the wearing of an eye patch over the strong eye. The problem with that is that at a vulnerable age you get to walk round looking like a target for other kids to make fun of! The idea behind I-BiT was that you could, instead, play games on computers in your own home. The treatment time is also significantly reduced - if the child complies!

So why would a child not comply with playing computer games? Well even with really professional games if they are not the ones the children want to play getting them involved and keeping them at it for an hour a day for six weeks requires input from parents. For children who comply it really works.

The other main problem was the technology needed. The I-BiT hardware used active shutter glasses. These had to be worn over the children's ordinary glasses. They didn't like it. A more significant problem was the end of production of all the equipment we had used.

Where to next? More difficult obstacles need to be overcome but since my leaving the University of Nottingham in June 2019 and working as a "sole trader" we have found ways forward we know will work. They also open up other important things that can be done.

In September 2020 I set up IBiT Software Ltd in order to look for funding to exploit the developments. Hardware colaborators have already been found who will provide the hardware needed to bring the product to market. The prototype for the new system had begun to be developed so the time had come to set up a company.