Saturday, September 21, 2013

Smartphones, consumerism, and saving the world

An unrepentantly optimistic take on the proliferation of smartphones that some consider unnecessary luxuries as they lament consumerism (WSJ):

Seven years ago, when one-megapixel cameras started appearing on phones, I began working with a group of students in my lab at the University of California at Berkeley to see if those cameras could capture images of human cells similar to those captured on our $150,000 research microscope.

By attaching a simple set of lenses to a Nokia phone borrowed from my sister, we were able to image blood cells, malaria parasites and the bacteria that cause tuberculosis.

Several years and prototypes later, we and collaborators are testing a mobile-phone-based device in Cameroon to screen for parasitic worm infections. We're also testing a modified mobile phone in Thailand to image the back of the eye for retinal diseases, and another in India to provide early warning of oral cancer. Other researchers have created a cellphone stethoscope and a portable ultrasound system. The list goes on.

Our laboratory microscope still has more features than our smartphone microscope, of course, just as hospital medical equipment has more capabilities than the smartphone-based devices that duplicate some of their functions. But with smartphones capable of providing basic primary-care services and diagnostic work, and with expanding wireless services that allow doctors to interpret results and recommend treatments remotely, many of the services we enjoy at the doctor's office will be available in the field—anywhere in the world.

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