I wrote a few days ago promising that I would let you know about the efforts of one of my teams competing in the Microsoft Imagine Cup. Well, here it is in press release form (without giving away too much of the details)!
Little Rock, AR – Access to safe drinking water is a global issue. In fact, less than 1% of the world’s water is considered safe for drinking and 3.6 million people die each year from waterborne diseases. The issue takes on even more importance in a disaster situation such as after Hurricane Katrina or the earthquake in Haiti. Many water sources once thought to be safe can become contaminated because of broken water lines, chemical spills, or other reasons.
Since the human body can survive much longer without food than it can without water, getting safe drinking water is one of the primary concerns of emergency responders. A team of students from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock have created an innovative application to help emergency responders in this effort by using mobile pones to collect, analyze, and communicate water testing data so that safe water sources can be identified and resources can be allocated more effectively to those areas where the water is not safe. The H-2-O Mobile Water Laboratory is the combination of a Windows Phone 7 smartphone, a portable microscope, a software application that resides on the mobile phone, data storage on Windows Azure Storage and SQL Azure, the cloud-based storage offerings from Microsoft.
The H-2-O Mobile Water Testing Laboratory works by allowing emergency responders to easily collect and interpret the results of various water tests and to communicate them out to emergency responders. For example, an emergency responder could use the application first to interpret the results of the tests of chemical properties of a water source such as Ph and nitrite levels, to identify malicious bacteria and parasites that may be present in the source through microscopic examination, and then geo-tag and communicate those results out to the response agencies so that they can get resources out to the areas where the water is unsafe.
The students chose to write a mobile application for many reasons. One reason that mobility was chosen is because of its wide adoption. Over 80% of the world’s population has access to cell phone coverage, and new technologies are only going to increase this number. This means that the application has the ability to be used almost anywhere there is a disaster situation. Another reason for mobility was the capabilities that Windows Phone 7 mobile devices possess. The students tie many of these capabilities (camera, phone, data communication, GPS, and processing) into a single platform through their innovative software design.
This isn’t just your typical contest entry. The students are extremely serious about making an impact with this application. They have already secured some funding in the form of a UALR Sustainability Research Grant and are applying to other funding sources to support the development of the application. They have also worked with organizations such as Lifewater International to get technical assistance with the water testing aspects of the application and are seeking to partner with organizations that can provide better microscopic technology for the application. Finally, they have applied for a patent on the H-2-O Mobile Water Testing Lab and formed a Limited Liability Corporation in an effort to bring this technology to market.
I wish the team much success as they compete in the Microsoft Imagine Cup competition this year!