Waterloo alumni technology company becomes runner up for James Dyson Award

Waterloo alumni technology company becomes runner up for James Dyson Award

The team at Scope will continue to develop this technology and aim to bring it to other sectors

A group of five nanotechnology engineering graduates from the University of Waterloo have come far with their startup technology company becoming a worldwide runner-up for the 2020 James Dyson Award for student inventors.

It has been just over a year since the graduates had teamed up after voicing their interest in optics and frustration with the poor quality of their smartphone photographs. 

“It’s been a really fun year,” said Holden Beggs (BASc ’20), a Co-Founder and CEO of the company, Scope Photonics, in a release. “There is definitely much more buzz around the technology and our vision of modernizing and digitizing optics than there was when we started.”

This award means that Scope, which started out as a fourth-year design project for the five classmates last fall, landed themselves in the top four out of 1,800 entries from 27 countries.

It comes with additional perks like an $8,500 prize as well as exposure for Beggs and his partners, Alisha Bhanji (BASc ’20), Ishan Mishra (BASc ’20), Fernando Pena (BASc ’20) and Zhenle Cao (BASc ’20), to continue working on and commercialize technology to overhaul smartphone cameras.

“Optics have been optimized and accessorized, but not revolutionized,” said Bhanji, who graduated along with her teammates in the spring. “We’re determined to change that.”

The judges of the prestigious contest, started by James Dyson, a well-known inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner, were impressed by the team’s use of simulations as well as practical experiments to refine their concept to add a high-quality zoom function to smartphone cameras.

“Not only is it a compact and cost-effective solution, it also has the potential to be used in a variety of product applications,” said Peter Gammack, a Vice-President at Dyson.

This particular technology the team is working with will allow lenses to zoom in or out on a subject with no mechanical movement and without losing image quality, as opposed to existing optical lenses, which date back to the 16th century and require physical movement to zoom in. This new tech is ideal for limited-space smartphones. 

The team is looking ahead to bringing this technology to other sectors, including medical imaging and autonomous vehicles.

“Obviously, a single smartphone camera that can do all these different things is incredible,” said Beggs. “But if you think of where else cameras are useful throughout the world, it’s a whole other ballgame.”


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