FoneAstra: Enabling networked, sensing applications on low-tier mobile phones

FoneAstra is a small, low-cost add-on device that plugs into cheap, non-programmable mobile phones and transforms them into networked sensing nodes. FoneAstra hosts application specific sensors and software, and leverages the connected mobile phone to communicate with backend servers or other mobile phones. This system enables a variety of mobile applications in domains ranging from healthcare to remote monitoring to participatory sensing. Using cheap mobile phones as robust cellular modems significantly lowers the technical and financial barriers faced when deploying large-scale sensing systems. In collaboration with PATH, a Seattle-based NGO working in the global health space, we have created a couple of applications that leverage FoneAstra to address global health issues.

Monitoring Vaccine Cold-Chains

[poster] [paper] [talk]

It is estimated that vaccines worth $100 million (USD) are wasted every year in developing countries due to problems in the cold-chain (the temperature-controlled supply chain for storing/distributing vaccines). A more serious problem is the risk of administering deactivated vaccines to patients. FoneAstras enhanced with temperature sensors help lower this risk and wastage by enabling realtime information flows in the vaccine cold-chain.

In collaboration with Project Optimize (a joint project between PATH and the World Health Organization) and the Albanian Ministry of Health, we have deployed the FoneAstra-based system to monitor a part of the cold-chain in the Tirana district of Albania. Facilities covered include the national and district-level stores and health centers in the district. FoneAstras continuously monitor the internal temperature of equipment and periodically relay the temperature data to a central server via SMS. Additionally, alarm conditions trigger an SMS alert to be sent to the server immediately, which further notifies the appropriate staff. Cold-chain supervisors access the server via a web browser and view the detailed, graphical temperature profiles of equipment on the field.

Ensuring Safety of Human Breast Milk during Pasteurization

[paper] [talk]

[ PATH, UW-CSE and the Human Milk Bank Association of South Africa have been awarded a Grand Challenge Exploration grant from the Gates Foundation for this project. ]

Research indicates that in Sub-Saharan Africa about 40% of the HIV-positive children get the infection from mother-to-child-transmission of the virus during breastfeeding. Studies show that pasteurizing breast milk obtained from HIV-positive mothers effectively deactivates the virus and other contaminants in milk while retaining its immunological and nutritional properties. The Maternal and Child Health team at PATH has developed a low-cost, low-tech method to pasteurize human milk that has proven to be effective in lab settings. However, the need to ensure procedural  compliance and have quality assurance (QA) has been a barrier towards large-scale adoption of this method. FoneAstra enhanced with audiovisual feedback capabilities and a food-grade, waterproof temperature probe addresses these concerns.

FoneAstra gives continuous feedback to users when they are pasteurizing milk and guides them through the procedure. At the end of the procedure the detailed time-temperature data is uploaded to a server via SMS. The server archives the data and also forwards it to a registered QA personnel who views the temperature curve on their smartphone and approves or rejects the procedure based on this data. This system will be deployed at a Human Milk Bank in South Africa in early 2012.