Calculators are used to get the right answer when you don’t know what that answer should be. Unfortunately if you make any slip in a calculation, you simply get the wrong answer. Number entry is ubiquitous: it is required in many fields including science, healthcare, education, government, mathematics and finance. People entering numbers are to be expected to make errors, but shockingly few systems make any effort to detect, block or otherwise manage errors. While this may be merely inconvenient for many, in a safety critical environment (such as a hospital - in radiotherapy or drug dosing) numerical errors can be fatal. "Preventable deaths" in hospitals are deaths that should not have occurred. They are high in number, and in excess of deaths on the roads.
Researchers at Swansea University have designed a next generation general-purpose calculator that automatically corrects errors in mathematical syntax (something like a spell or grammar checker in a document) so that the conclusion is always consistent with the input. Numbers and equations are written freehand using everyday notation and are automatically recognised and formatted in a mathematically correct manner. Although input errors can still occur, the format makes them instantly recognisable and the invention makes them extremely easy to correct. In trials, a 60% pass rate using conventional calculators (for maths exams) was increased to 100%. A demonstrator exists as a downloadable app for the research community, and is offered for inclusion in teaching aids or for new user interfaces for numerical manipulation needed, and where innovation, user friendliness or safety/dependability are requirements. The calculator can also do complex sums, solve for single unknowns and sensibly correct the user’s mathematics, whilst really letting them play with the mathematics and understand what is happening.
Swansea University has one of the UK's largest groups of researchers working on the overlap between patient safety and IT, combining leading expertise in human factors, software engineering and device simulation with laboratory analysis to help design safer systems. The consequences of this technology are not just improved patient safety, but systematic cost savings for healthcare providers, plus expert advice to build safer equipment.
A patent has been granted under NZ564981; and is being offered for licence under Easy Access IP.
Inventor: Harold Thimbleby & William Thimbleby