For those of us who can remember when cell phones first came out, we can agree that it is an understatement to say that mobile phone technology has improved so much over the years. While most of us use our phone to send text messages, check Facebook, update Twitter, and play Angry Birds, many do not realize just how underutilized our smartphones truly are.
Scientists and technology gurus are working together to better utilize the massive processing power and abilities these miniature pocket computers contain. Seeking to help the blind read, bring medical aid to the impoverished, and diagnose Parkinson’s Disease, smartphones may be on the path to changing the world.
Turning their attention to low-income countries, the fellows at MIT’s Legatum Center are looking at some of the beneficial uses of cell phone applications. Because mobile phones are dispersed throughout the developing world, the devices are well suited to provide a network for other mobile services. One such service that has the potential to change the world is mobile healthcare. Moca, a nonprofit company founded by several MIT students, has developed open-source software intended to improve the delivery of healthcare in remote villages across the world. This software may help serve villages where the nearest clinic or hospital is many miles away.
Using a menu of questions downloaded to a cell phone, a patient can transmit enough information to a doctor or nurse to receive an initial diagnosis through this phone application. The doctors and nurses can then better determine if the sick individual needs to make the long trip to the closest clinic. While this application is still in its developing stages, it certainly has the potential to change the face of healthcare in underprivileged regions.
Another way that doctors are implementing smartphone technology is to help diagnose Parkinson’s Disease. Researchers at UCLA have developed an application for the iPhone that uses the accelerometer to characterize a Parkinson’s tremor. The accelerometer is the device on most smartphones that makes the phone change its point of view based on the position of the phone. It makes the screen image rotate horizontally when the phone is moved to the horizontal position. The accelerometer works by detecting motions.
While most of us recognize the accelerometer as the thing on our phone that allows us to watch Youtube in full screen, recently doctors have tapped into its motion technology. The iPhone application collects data from the iPhone’s accelerometer as the iPhone rests on a patient’s hand. The application will then send the accelerometer’s measurements to a doctor, allowing doctors to interpret the characteristics of an individual’s tremor. While not all of the kinks for this application have been completely worked out, it has successfully distinguished an individual with Parkinson’s from a healthy individual during testing.
As if diagnosing diseases and treating the sick weren’t enough, smartphones are also helping the visually impaired read. There are now several different cell phone apps out on the market that implement Braille onto a cell phone interface. While this seems a little far-fetched, the Braille apps capture received text messages and use the touchscreen and built in vibrator to turn the message into something that resembles Braille. An individual who is visually impaired would be able to run their fingers over the screen of their phones and read their messages in Braille. Pretty amazing.
To most of us our cell phones simply mean more distractions and bigger monthly bills; however, these three smartphone applications show just how much potential these toys may hold.
Guest Author: This is a guest article by Mariana Ashley who is a freelance writer who particularly enjoys writing about online colleges. She loves receiving reader feedback, which can be directed to mariana.ashley031 @gmail.com.