Mobility

Vodafone WIP contest winners use mobile tech to deliver clean water, better healthcare

Vodafone Americas Foundation held a contest to promote innovation in the mobile/wireless technology space. Learn about the three winners for 2015 and what they brought to the competition.

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2015 Vodafone Americas Foundation Annual Wireless Innovation Project Winners.
Image: Vodafone

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2015 Vodafone Americas Foundation Annual Wireless Innovation Project Winners.
Image: Vodafone

Vodafone is a British telecommunications company which has talked the talk and walked the walk when it comes to making a positive impact. For seven years now they've held a Wireless Innovation Project (WIP) hosted by their California-based philanthropic arm, the Vodafone Americas Foundation (VAF), designed to "promote innovation and increase implementation of wireless related technology for a better world." U.S.-based universities and nonprofit organizations are invited to compete and prizes total $600,000: $300,000 for first place, $200,000 for second place and $100,000 for third place. VAF has provided almost $3 million in funding so far based on this competition.

Winning products in prior years have included cancer-screening and health assessment functionality for mobile phones, wireless vaccine monitoring, an environmental monitoring spectrometer, insect sensors to assist farmers, and a text-based money management tool. These winners proceeded to receive additional funding, obtained patents and brought the products to the marketplace as a result of their innovation.

This year's contest resulted in a fascinating blend of ideas. Vodafone Americas Foundation Board of Directors Chairman and President Chuck Pol said: "The Wireless Innovation Project provides a platform for disruptive ideas in mobile and wireless to gain market traction. The 2015 winners represent the brightest of a new generation of problem solvers for critical global community needs, and we're proud to recognize their cutting-edge visions."

The 2015 winners

1st place Seva Sustainable Solution, Caltech

Clement Cid, Ph.D. candidate Cody Finke, Ph.D. candidate


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Image: Seva Sustainable Solution

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Image: Seva Sustainable Solution

Cid and Finke developed a mobile technology to manage wastewater treatment. The idea stemmed from the fact that over two and a half billion people suffer inadequate or nonexistent access to sanitation facilities, and it's been difficult to find affordable and efficient mechanisms to monitor and maintain these systems.

Their solution includes an app which can diagnose problems and notify users of solutions and status updates.


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Image: Seva Sustainable Solution

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Image: Seva Sustainable Solution

The following Q/A was provided to me via a representative of Vodafone, who arrange to put me into contact with Cid and Finke.

SM: What did you do to earn 1st place in the Wireless Innovation Project?

Cid/Finke: "We listened to the end user of novel sanitation technologies in the developing world, specifically users of our Gates-funded human wastewater treatment system in India and China."

SM: "How will the win help you achieve your objectives?"

Cid/Finke: "We are going to build and field test prototypes of this technology. First on the solar toilet installed on Caltech campus and then in the prototypes installed in India and China."

SM: "What do you have planned for next year?"

Cid/Finke: "We need to interface our code with inexpensive and durable electronics and sensors to build our alpha-prototype. By the end of next year this alpha-prototype will be implemented and tested on our Reinvented Toilet on Caltech campus and later in India and China."

2nd Place WellDone Mobile Monitor (MoMo)

Austin McGee, Director; WellDone International (SF) Time Burke, CTO; WellDone International (SF)

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Image: WellDone International

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Image: WellDone International

United Nations Resolution 64/292 states that the right to water (and sanitation) is "essential to the realisation of all human right." Since 1990 more than two and a third billion people have obtained access to clean water, but up to 40% of the rural water infrastructure has since become outdated and nonfunctional. WellDone International has developed a remote monitoring technology that seeks to address this issue by providing real-time usage and functionality information for rural water infrastructural facilities.

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Image: WellDone International

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Image: WellDone International

Here is my Q/A with McGee and Burke.

SM: What did you do to earn 2nd place in the Wireless Innovation Project?

McGee/Burke: "For the past three years we have been developing an innovative, low-cost and low-power remote monitoring system that is desperately needed to address systemic sustainability issues in rural water development projects. Nearly 40% of projects fail and there is little to no information about when, why and how they break down. Our solution provides near-real time data on the usage and functionality of water points, enabling implementation and support of efficient long-term operation and maintenance programs. We believe that this technology can fundamentally change the metrics for success of rural development projects from the number of projects built to the quality and reliability of service delivered to people in need."

SM: "How will the win help you achieve your objectives?"

McGee/Burke: "We have performed significant development of a sophisticated technology tool largely as volunteers and part-time contributors. This award will be used to scale up our engineering capacity in the short term in order to provide a robust, well-tested product that we are confident can last in the field for a decade. In the long-term the Vodafone funding will be used to facilitate new deployments and to ensure that the service we provide remains in line with the needs of the communities we serve."

SM: "What do you have planned for next year?"

McGee/Burke: "In the next year we plan to scale up our pilot project in Tanzania and begin working more broadly in the region. Through these efforts we also plan to finish productizing our technology so that it can be provided turn-key to WASH implementers globally. Additionally, we will investigate opportunities to utilize our versatile technology to monitor other types of infrastructure in the developing world."

3rd Place Mobile Stethoscope Diagnostics Rich Fletcher, Research Scientist (MIT) Daniel Chamberlain, Graduate Research Assistant (MIT)

A stethoscope is one of the most basic yet most useful tools for medical practitioners. My wife is a physical therapist and she uses hers on a daily basis, along with doctors, nurses, and other staff who need to diagnose the body through listening.

Fletcher and Chamberlain represent a team from the MIT D-Lab which has developed a mobile stethoscope and application to provide critical diagnostic assistance to untrained health workers in developing countries.

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Image: Mobile Stethoscope

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Image: Mobile Stethoscope

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Image: Mobile Stethoscope

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Image: Mobile Stethoscope

Here is my QA with Fletcher and Chamberlain:

SM: "What did you do to earn 3rd place in the Wireless Innovation Project?"

Fletcher/Chamberlain: "In India (as well as many other developing countries) there is a lack of trained doctors who know how to diagnose pulmonary disease, and the fancy expensive medical equipment is not available in most of the country. To solve this problem, our team has been working without clinical partner in India the past 2 years to develop a way to diagnose a variety of pulmonary diseases without the need for expensive equipment or a great deal of specialized training.

We have created a medical protocol that enables us to diagnose pulmonary diseases using a mobile phone and two common low-cost tools (a digital stethoscope and a peak flow meter). Part of our innovation is intelligent machine learning algorithms running on the mobile phone that can automatically recognize different types of lung sounds and also analyze the data in real time and provide diagnostic information to the doctor or health worker."

SM: "How will the win help you achieve your objectives?"

Fletcher/Chamberlain: "The award money will be used to fund a clinical study in India which will be the world's first comprehensive study of a mobile platform for diagnosing pulmonary disease."

SM: "What do you have planned for next year?"

Fletcher/Chamberlain: "Over this next year, we will be conducting the world's first comprehensive clinical study to use these mobile tools to diagnose pulmonary disease. Our clinical partner, the Chest Research Foundation, a top pulmonary research clinic in India, will be conducting the study using the technology we have provided.

Many health-oriented mobile apps and mobile technologies never get rigorously tested in the field, so we really appreciate the support of Vodafone to enable this to happen. It is a big step — not just for our project, but for mobile health in general."

Learning more from Vodafone

I received further input from VAF Director June Sugiyama, who said: "In our seventh year, the winners point to critical, ongoing challenges in delivering the most basic human needs -access to sanitation, clean water and health. Mobile and wireless platforms are not just tools for the productivity and entertainment in the developed world. The Wireless Innovation Project's winning technologies see the potential of wireless technology and focus it on improving quality of life for people around the globe. In addition to grant funds, WIP recipients receive support and guidance over a three-year period to advance products on their journey to reach the global marketplace. Vodafone brings technical expertise, partnerships and global reach that accelerate mobile innovations to deliver wider social impact than they could achieve alone."

SM: "What brought about the idea for the competition?"

    Sugiyama: "At the time, we realized there were many high potential innovations incubating in universities that had difficulty gaining access to the market, so we wanted these innovators come to us - rather than us having to search arbitrarily. Also, the Foundation is different from VCs...the juncture at which we provide funds as well as size of the funds are timely to propel these solutions to the next critical step."

    SM: "How were the winners chosen (and what's the selection process like)?"

    Sugiyama: "Vodafone Americas Foundation (VAF) identifies and funds high impact solutions that use mobile and wireless technology to address critical social issues in the following areas: women's issues, access to communication, education, economic development, environment and health.

    Wireless Innovation Project applicants must demonstrate a multi-disciplinary approach; produce an advanced prototype or meet a field/market test during the award period (which can be replicated and are highly scalable); and provide a business plan for financial sustainability (beyond VAF's award). The application period is open from November to February.

    By late spring, VAF selects up to eight finalists to present their proposals before a panel of judges with expertise in the areas of wireless engineering, international development, and social entrepreneurship. This is so that the judges can determine if the finalists are able to engage diverse audiences to obtain additional funding and forge strategic partnerships. It is important for the finalists to be well rounded and, most of all, be passionate about their work and the people they are helping.

    Winners are selected by early June for awards of $100,000, $200,000, and $300,000 allocated over a three-year period."

    I'd like to express my thanks to Vodafone and the contest winners for the time they spent communicating with me, and I look forward to seeing the finalists and winners for the 2016 competition!

    About Vodafone

    Vodafone is one of the world's largest telecommunications companies and provides a range of services including voice, messaging, data and fixed communications. Vodafone has mobile operations in 26 countries, partners with mobile networks in 55 more, and fixed broadband operations in 17 markets. As of 31 March 2015, Vodafone had 446 million mobile customers and 12 million fixed broadband customers. For more information, please visit: www.vodafone.com. For more details on the Wireless Innovation Project, visit vodafone-us.com. You can also view a video regarding the Wireless Innovation Project 2015 here.

    To follow Vodafone Americas Foundation on Twitter, visit @VodafoneProject. To visit Vodafone Americas Foundation on Facebook, click here.

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    About Scott Matteson

    Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.

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