November 2, 2009
Student projects explore innovative cellphone uses in developing world
A cellphone is not just for calling, texting and taking pictures anymore. Several startup business ventures spawned by MIT students, sometimes as class projects and sometimes as independent work, are exploring new ways to harness the increasingly ubiquitous devices. They are using phones to help people, especially in developing nations, to raise their incomes, learn to read, get where they're going and even diagnose their ailments. MIT News reports.
... Improving the delivery of health care in rural areas has been one major focus of these research efforts. Patients in a remote village, for example, now may have to spend a whole day or more traveling to the nearest clinic in order to be tested, diagnosed and receive treatment or a prescription drug for their health problems. But a new open-source software system developed by students who formed a nonprofit company called Moca could provide a faster way.
Using a menu of questions downloaded to a cellphone - and, if necessary, a picture taken with the phone's built in camera - a patient can transmit enough information to a doctor or nurse in a remote location to get a preliminary diagnosis, and to find out whether the condition warrants a trip to the clinic or not.
While Moca aims to improve people's health, some new cellphone ventures also aim to build users' wealth. One such plan is a project called Zaca, which initially aims to empower farmers in the poor, rural Mexican state of Zacatecas.
Farmers there have been doing so poorly that many have already emigrated to the United States (it is estimated that up to 1 million Zacatecans now live in the U.S., compared to about 1.3 million still in the state). The Zaca team hopes to alleviate the situation by giving the farmers more information, allowing them to make deals through their cellphones to sell their crops directly instead of having to deal through middlemen, and giving them details of crop prices and growing practices that can help them make better decisions about what to plant each year.
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