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Monday, 17 December, 2001, 00:50 GMT
Software spots epilepsy danger TV
children in front of television
TV images have to vetted for possible triggers
Computer software which can detect television images likely to trigger epileptic fits has been developed by UK experts.

Suspect sequences previously had to be painstakingly examined manually.

The software, development by Cambridge Research Systems, identifies the telltale signs of all the known patterns of lights and colours which can cause seizures.

The system is already in use in television post-production companies and at the Independent Television Commission (ITC), which regulates the commercial television sector.

Only a small proportion of epilepsy patients are "photosensitive" - and people tend to be more vulnerable between the ages of eight and 20.

A rogue sequence of blue and red lights in a Japanese "Pokemon" cartoon in 1997 provoked seizures in hundreds of children.

"Strobe" effects - where there are more than three bright flashes per second, can also cause fits, as can certain moving patterns of light and dark stripes.

Disney interest

Tony Carpenter, commercial sales manager for Cambridge Research Systems, said: "It took us about a year to develop - before, the industry relied on a few experts and researchers to check their material.

"Most of the interest has been from people concerned with the production of commercials.

"You need to check these before you have paid for voiceovers, which make it difficult to change."

He said that there had been interest from Disney in the US about the system.

Early morning work

Professor Graham Harding, a UK expert in photosensitive epilepsy, from Aston University near Birmingham, helped develop the software.

He said: "Prior to this, I had to get up early so I could look at videotapes for commercial companies.

"This does the same thing - extremely accurately - but at virtually three times the speed."

He said the UK had one of the tightest regulatory schemes to prevent seizures caused by television images.

"It is the best way of protecting people."

See also:

06 Dec 01 | Health
Filter 'could prevent seizures'
18 Oct 01 | Health
New epilepsy patients 'failed'
07 Sep 01 | Health
Epilepsy doctor to be replaced
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