Computer scientists at the University of Washington have used Android, the open-source mobile operating system championed by Google, to turn a cell phone into a versatile data-collection device.
Organizations that want a fully customizable way to, say, snap pictures of a deforested area, add the location coordinates and instantly submit that information to a global environmental database now have a flexible and free way to do it.
UW computer scientists were already working on mobile tools for the developing world when Android, the first comprehensive open-source platform for mobile devices, was announced two years ago by the Open Handset Alliance, a group of companies of which Google is a member. For the past year UW computer science and engineering doctoral students Carl Hartung, Yaw Anokwa and Waylon Brunette have worked at Google’s Seattle office using Android to create a data-collection platform for use in developing regions.
Their free suite of tools, named Open Data Kit, is already used by organizations around the world that need inexpensive ways to gather information in areas with little infrastructure. Seattle's Grameen Foundation Technology Center is using it to evaluate its Ugandan text-messaging information hotline; D-Tree International, a Boston-based nonprofit, is using it in Tanzania to guide health workers treating children under 5 years old; the University of California, Berkeley’s Human Rights Center is using it to record human rights violations in the Central African Republic. This fall the Jane Goodall Institute in Tanzania and the Brazilian Forest Service signed up to use it to monitor deforestation.
“Many organizations need to be able to make evidence-based decisions, and to do that they need data," Anokwa said. "We hope our toolkit enables organizations to gather the data quickly so they can analyze it quickly and make the best decisions for the communities they serve."
They tool is described in an article published this month in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' Computer Magazine. Gaetano Borriello, UW professor of computer science and engineering, and Adam Lerer, a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are co-authors.
In the past some researchers have harnessed individual cell phone models to collect data in the field. But when the phone gets outdated, so does the software. Instead of creating a tool for a single phone, or even a single purpose, the UW team built something that would provide a reusable platform to collect all types of mobile data.
“We found a lot of organizations were building a lot of one-off tools that were very similar,” Hartung said. “We're trying to make ours as compatible and flexible as possible.”
Open Data Kit's versatile suite of tools can collect data; store, view and export data on remote servers; and manage devices in the field from a central office. The output is compatible with emerging data standards such as the Open Medical Records System, which aims to coordinate health records in the developing world.
Many organizations are using Open Data Kit, but the biggest project so far is a major effort to track and treat HIV patients in Kenya. Led by the Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare, a U.S. Agency for International Development-funded partnership between Indiana University and Kenya's Moi University, it is one of the most comprehensive HIV treatment programs in sub-Saharan Africa. AMPATH trains Kenyan community health workers who conduct door-to-door testing in rural areas for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, and offer ongoing personalized health counseling.Hartung and Anokwa traveled to Kenya this summer to meet with AMPATH’s community health workers and do a trial run with 10 phones. They spent two weeks working with Kenyan collaborators, then accompanied community health workers on home visits to see the phone being used in the field.
“It’s a pretty amazing experience to be sitting in a mud hut seeing someone get counseled, maybe for the first time, on HIV, and the counselor is using your tool to record information," Hartung said. "It gives a whole new perspective on the need for reliable software.”
For the past two years AMPATH workers have conducted field visits using a Palm Pilot and separate GPS unit. This required workers to key in a 10-digit identifier for each patient, stand outside and wait up to two minutes to get location coordinates, and at the end of each day return to the main office to upload their information to a central database, which adds travel time and expense.
Phones running Open Data Kit can record location in seconds, scan a barcode rather than requiring the numbers to be entered by hand, and upload the data automatically using a cellular network. AMPATH plans to deploy 100 Google-powered phones by the end of this year. Ultimately, it aims to use 300 phones powered with Open Data Kit to reach 2 million people.
"Adopting this technology was kind of a win-win-win in terms of direction for our organization,” said Dr. Burke Mamlin, an assistant professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine and research scientist with the nonprofit Regenstrief Institute, which supports AMPATH. "This opens doors by allowing us to bring data collected in the field directly into our medical records system. And now we have a phone, all the personal digital assistant capability, the ability to read barcodes, and the ability to capture images or video, all in one unit."
The device also opens up new possibilities for the future. If one family member is absent during a site visit health workers can schedule a follow-up visit and have it automatically appear in their calendars. Health workers could cue up public-health videos if they thought the family could benefit. Program managers in a central office could track data in real time and send updates to field workers without them having to come back to the base.
Building technology for use in the developing world offers new challenges for computer scientists. Power and connectivity may be intermittent, and users may have poor eyesight or literacy.
There are also other issues specific to mobile devices. Web developers in the Western world generally create white text on a dark background, but it turns out dark text on a white background works better in bright sunlight, where most of these devices will be used. And touch-screen phones rely on an electrical signal from users' fingers, but that signal gets blocked by calluses. UW students found some rural users needed to use a softer part of the finger pad, and this meant designing bigger buttons.
The team is now back at the UW, where they are part of a group called Change that studies technology in the developing world. Funding for the project comes from Google.org, the philanthropic arm of the company. The code is freely available and ongoing research will be based at the university. Hartung and Anokwa are co-teaching a new course this fall, Mobile and Cloud Applications for Emerging Regions (http://www.cs.washington.edu/education/courses/cse599y/09au/), in which undergraduate computer science and engineering students learn skills and then apply them by creating new features requested by Open Data Kit users.
“We've only seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of the types of applications we can run that are really customized to the person who's holding the device,” said Gaetano Borriello. "For places where resources are constrained, where data is unavailable and where large problems exist, this technology is very powerful."
For more information, contact Hartung at 206-930-2976 and email@example.com, Anokwa at 206-484-2853 and firstname.lastname@example.org or Borriello at 206-685-9432 and email@example.com. Anokwa will be out of the country until Nov. 8.
More information on Open Data Kit is at http://change.washington.edu/projects/odk. Watch a demonstration of the tool on YouTube at http://tinyurl.com/lttrqj.
For AMPATH, media may contact Megan Miller, 317-630-6882, firstname.lastname@example.org. Information on the agency's work is at www.iukenya.org.
Android and Google are trademarks of Google Inc.
Hartung | Newswise Science News
New technology enables 5-D imaging in live animals, humans
16.01.2017 | University of Southern California
Fraunhofer FIT announces CloudTeams collaborative software development platform – join it for free
10.01.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).
Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...
Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.
The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
05.01.2017 | Event News
17.01.2017 | Earth Sciences
17.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
17.01.2017 | Architecture and Construction