EIRA-funded project accepted onto national development programme



An EIRA-funded Proof-of-Concept project has been selected onto a national programme that aims to transform academic research into commercial successes.

The Innovation to Commercialisation of University Research (ICURe) Programme is a collaboration between SETsquared, NorthbyNorthwest Partnership, Midlands Partnership, Innovate UK, UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). It has been designed to move ideas and innovation out of labs and into the marketplace where they will have the greatest impact. The ICURe Programme has helped create over 100 new companies and 500+ new jobs. This will be the first time that the University of Essex has ever taken part.

Now the University of Essex project, AReye, will be given the chance to develop the project further through this prestigious programme and could result in a spinout company being formed to take their innovative new product to support patients with vision loss. Co-invented by the Department of Psychology academics Prof. Paul Hibbard and Dr. Jordi Asher as part of her PhD, AReye offers an augmented reality (AR) solution to help people with visual field loss navigate their surroundings. The unique  invention aims to provide an affordable solution to available consumer devices.  EIRA funding of £35k was awarded in December 2018 to begin the research required to scope the viability of this solution. A further £30k worth of funding was secured from the University of Essex in March 2020 to develop a prototype for the research, with the aim of extending user testing to individuals with visual field loss.

The team behind AReye includes Prof. Paul Hibbard (co-inventor) as Senior Researcher, Dr. Jordi Asher as Junior Researcher, Emma Wakeling, EIRA Knowledge Exchange Lead for the Digital Creative theme and businessman and investor Phil O’Donovan. Phil brings a wealth of experience to the team as a business mentor who, as founding Managing Director, helped grow CSR plc (starting as Cambridge Silicon Radio Ltd) from a start-up of nine in 1999 into a highly successful FTSE 250 listed fabless semiconductor company.

Kicking off at the end of August, the ICURe programme will fund the lead researcher, Jordi Asher, for almost four months to push forward on commercialising the product, developing a business plan and building contacts to purchase and distribute the product. If successful, it could result in another spin- out for the University of Essex, hot on the heels of the recent announcement of tech giant Siemen acquiring Essex spin-out UltraSOC.

Speaking about the selection of AREye onto the national programme, Emma Wakeling said:

“I am excited to be part of this programme and to support Jordi on her entrepreneurial journey as I really believe in the product and its market potential”

Prof. Paul Hibbard said:

“This project has grown from our research into understanding the human visual system, and into the use of virtual and augmented reality. The ICURe programme provides an unrivalled opportunity to learn how take the steps needed to turn our vision into a reality, so that we can ensure that its potential impact is achieved”

Dr. Jordi Asher, whose thesis was the basis of this project said:

“Aftercare for survivors with visual field loss is limited, the impact to daily life and the loss of independence is severe.  There is no treatment for visual field loss and damage is most often permanent. The recent advances in consumer and augmented reality creates a potential method to improve the quality of life for these individuals.  Being selected to participate in the 29th ICURe programme is an incredible opportunity in bringing our concept to market. ”

EIRA are delighted to support this project as it moves into its next phase of development and we will be updating on progress. EIRA aims to connect businesses with academic expertise and has funded over 80 knowledge exchange projects to date. If you are a business owner in the East of England considering how you can make your organisation more innovative, EIRA may have funding available to support your growth. Contact us to find out more information.