A team of former engineering students from the University of Waterloo has made a shortlist of finalists in a high-profile international invention competition.

Scope, which is developing a better zoom function for smartphone cameras and other applications, is one of 20 teams from countries around the world still in the running for the 2020 James Dyson Award.

"We're honestly honoured and humbled to be included with such amazing projects - it's really surreal," said Holden Beggs, co-founder and CEO. "We couldn't have imagined this even a year ago, but everyone's excitement for our vision and technology is the perfect fuel in the fire to make our vision a reality, and let millions of people take incredible photos."

The other four team members are Alisha Bhanji, Ishan Mishra, Fernando Pena Cantu and Zhenle Cao. They all graduated from the nanotechnology engineering program earlier this year after developing Scope for their Capstone Design project.

US $50,000 goes to winner

Finalists in the 27-country competition were chosen from 81 national winners and runners-up by a panel of Dyson Ltd. engineers at research labs in the United Kingdom, Singapore and Malaysia.

James Dyson, the well-known inventor of a bagless vacuum cleaner, will now personally pick the international winner of a US $50,000 prize, plus US $8,200 for their university, in November. A sustainability winner will also collect US $50,000, while two runners-up receive US $8,200 each.

Scope was named a runner-up last month in the Canadian leg of the annual contest, which challenges students to come up with innovative products and concepts that solve tangible problems.

“Within this shortlist are ideas, improvements and processes to help improve life as we know it,” the organization said today in a media release. “These 20 inventions show that young people from all corners of the globe want to address world-wide issues in a better, more sustainable and innovative way.”

Second UW team was national runner-up

Scope is developing lenses made of liquid crystals in a cell, not curved plastic or glass, that are zoomed by the application of voltage instead of physical movement. Advantages include space savings in compact cameras.

In addition to smartphones, the startup company is pursuing applications including use in augmented and virtual reality devices, machine vision and microscopes.

A second entry from Waterloo Engineering, SmartPatrol, was also a national runner-up in the competition for a warning system that uses computer vision to prevent injuries at ski resorts.

The winning Canadian team from the University of British Columbia also made the international shortlist for a catheter sensor that detects IV leaks.

Banner photo: Scope team members (left to right) Alisha Bhanji, Ishan Mishra, Holden Beggs, Fernando Pena Cantu and Zhenle Cao.