Eye-scanning study pivotal to progress of online safety tool

iKey teams up with Dublin school for age verification system based on optic nerves

Dr Kate Coleman, founder of iKey: the firm has teamed up with a Dublin school for a study that could lead to an age verification system that works by scanning a person’s eye. Photograph: Julien Behal

Dr Kate Coleman, founder of iKey: the firm has teamed up with a Dublin school for a study that could lead to an age verification system that works by scanning a person’s eye. Photograph: Julien Behal

 

Tech company iKey has teamed up with a Dublin school for a study that could lead to an age verification system that works by scanning a person’s eye.

The pioneering investigation, which is being carried out with St Andrew’s College in Booterstown, could be used to protect children from accessing inappropriate material online.

The newly patented technology uses algorithms developed to assess photographs of the optical nerve head at the rear of the eye. Optic nerves are unique, with differences between the right and left eye in individuals. That means it can be used as a unique identifier. But it can also serve to approximate a person’s age. iKey’s technology can compare the pattern of blood vessels with those of more developed eyeballs in people aged over the age over 16.

The photographs are taken using a special camera called a non-mydriatic fundus camera, which is non-invasive.

Protect

“We were interested in getting a wide range of photographs,” said Dr Kate Coleman, founder of iKey. “As an eye surgeon, I know if I’m looking into a child’s eye or adult eye. Anatomically, the eye becomes fully developed between the age of three and 16. We’re specifically interested in how we can use this technology to protect children.”

The study is opting strictly on an opt-in basis for children at the school, with parental consent obtained, and the information is anonymised, complying with GDPR.

The company plans to carry out studies with other schools to build up its database of images.

“We have operated in stealth [mode] for the past few years, patents have been filed,” said Dr Coleman. She said she hopes to have some results in the next few months that could be put to work in a potential product.

Although the study is focused on developing tools to protect children and adolescents online, the system could also serve as an early warning for problems with eye health, such as glaucoma.

“The day you can’t log on, it says there is something that has changed in your eye,” said Dr Coleman.

The underlying technology is also being developed to screen for potential glaucoma blindness in Africa.

Dr Coleman is a former consultant ophthalmologist and eye surgeon at Blackrock Clinic and Mount Carmel Hospital in Dublin. She also founded Right to Sight, an international social enterprise combating preventable blindness in eight countries in Africa.

“I’m interested in disrupting the delivery of healthcare at the most basic level. That’s my passion,” she said.