Using SmartPhones to Solve Problems
Chances are that a large portion of the people viewing and reading this eblast are doing so using a smartphone. Just how many? The global smartphone audience surpassed the 1 billion mark in 2012. It’s estimated that, by the end of 2014, the global smartphone audience will total about 1.75 billion, which is nearly 40% of all mobile phone users and close to one-quarter of the world’s population. In fact, smartphone adoption is expected to continue on a fast-paced trajectory through 2017. It is projected that nearly 70% of the global population – 5.13 billion people — will have a mobile phone by 2017, over 50% of those will be smartphones.
In the U.S., those numbers are dramatically higher. Already 271 million people in the U.S. — 80% of the population — have a mobile phone. Also, according to the 2013 Pew Internet and American Life Project, 56% of those mobile phone users specifically have smartphones. A Goldman Sachs study predicts that smartphone use will increase to 81% of all mobile phone users by 2015! In other words, nearly every American will have a mobile phone and four out of every five of those mobile devices will be smartphones. Using a myriad of apps, smartphones are being deployed in creative ways to solve problems, change behavior, and — in the process — generate business opportunities. Every entrepreneur, business leader and manager should be thinking how a smartphone app might streamline business processes, cut costs, simplify customer service or solve problems.
Not a phone…. A mini-computer.
The first thing to really comprehend is that a smartphone is really a misnomer. Just because it looks like a phone and provides the basic functionality of a phone doesn’t mean it is ‘just a phone’. A smartphone is actually a pretty powerful pocket computer. Smartphones allow people to be instantly, continually connected to the greatest collection of information ever put together. It also leverages the ability of people to gather massive amounts of information about the world around them, share it instantaneously with others and aggregate that data easily. Those abilities are already having and will surely increasingly have profound impact on everything we do.
Here are some ways that smartphones are already being used to tackle pressing issues related to the environment, weather, and medical care. These examples show just a few ways that smartphones can be leveraged to solve problems.
There’s An App For That
Measure air pollution – Worried about air pollution? With 235 million people globally that have asthma, according to the World Health Organization, air pollution is certainly a growing concern for many. The first step to reducing air pollution is to better monitor and understand the amount of air pollution there is. Now there’s an app for that. Scientists at the University of California have developed CitiSense, a small smartphone add-on that monitors air pollution. CitiSense collects data from the sensors which measures air quality for that specific location. Asthmatics can then use that information to determine when it is best to avoid being outdoors in an area. Scientists can use that data to monitor air pollution. Whereas normally there might only be a dozen stations monitoring air pollution in any given city, with CitiSense scientists could gather air quality data from hundreds or thousands of people in a city whose smartphones are equipped with that add-on. That would provide a wealth of data that would be otherwise impossible to gather.
Track seismic activity globally – Smartphones already have a device known as an MEMS accelerometer, which is what helps it to determine which way is up and flips the screen around accordingly. It turns out that this device also measures earthquake forces and is already being used for that purpose by seismologists from Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology. The view for the future is that with an army of smartphones continually monitoring seismic activity and feeding seismometer data, emergency response teams would be able to quickly pinpoint an earthquake’s epicenter and get resources to the right places more quickly. It is also hoped that the technology could be used to create an early warning network . Collecting data from a large number of phones would help predict where an earthquake would strike next and send a warning to the media and to anyone with the app installed.
Improve weather predictions – For those tired of weather reports that are wrong half the time, the University of Wisconsin has now developpeed an iOS app called SatCam which works with satellites to help improve weather forecasting. Because satellites in space that track weather often find it difficult to tell the difference between a snowy landscape and cloud cover, the SatCam app delivers an alert when a weather satellite is passing overhead. The app user then uses the phone’s camera to take a picture looking straight up, and also one of the horizon. That data is then used to help in weather prediction. The more smartphone users that participate, the better the forecasting will be.
Provide portable medical diagnostic tools – There are a number of ways that smartphones are being used to help improve health and provide better ways to diagnose, track and treat medical conditions. Here are just a few:
* Detect viruses and bacteria and monitor treatment – The scientists at UCLA have created a light-weight device that converts a smartphone into a powerful mini-microscope which works on the nanoscale to count the number of sub-micron bacteria or viruses in a sample. The result is a portable imaging system that harnesses the digital power of today’s smartphones to detect individual viruses and determine viral load – the severity of infection. It only weighs six-and-a-half ounces, or little more than a baseball. This smartphone-based imaging can help physicians in far-flung and resource-limited locations monitor how well treatments for infections are working. Until now, conventional imaging techniques for detecting disease-causing bacteria and viruses relied on expensive microscopes with multiple lenses and other bulky optical components. In remote and poor areas, doctors had few options for determining how well a treatment was working.
* Perform simple eye exams - Refractive eye problems affect billions of people, often leading to an inability to read and write which then contribute to worsening poverty. While refractive eye conditions can be easily fixed with glasses that cost about $3 per pair, the big issue had been in providing eye exams to diagnose the problem. To address this huge problem especially affecting developing countries, MIT scientists have created a device that attaches to a smartphone that conducts a basic eye exam. Users place the device on their eyes and the system uses lasers to diagnose the problem, and what is needed to fix it. The device costs $2 to produce.
* Test Kidney function – Scientists at the University of California have developed a new kidney testing device that transmits data to healthcare professionals using a smartphone attachment. The item weighs about one-third of a pound and tests for levels of albumin present in a person’s urine. The protein is commonly found in blood but can indicate kidney damage when found in urine. The device tests albumin levels by beaming a small, visible light through both a urine sample and a control liquid. The results can then be sent automatically using an app. It can be especially useful for diabetes patients who often require frequent doctor visits for tests on kidney functionality. It can also help with early diagnosis of kidney disease and monitoring of chronic patients, especially those suffering from diabetes, hypertension, and/or cardiovascular diseases.
* Perform ultrasound tests – Mobisante has developed a smartphone ultrasound device which gives doctors and clinics the ability to easily look inside the body at internal organs or developing fetuses, and also allows them to send the images to other doctors for second opinions. While competing ultrasound equipment sells for $100,000, Mobisante’s smartphone version is just $10,000 and portable. It is especially appealing where access to ultrasound equipment is limited and expensive. Hospitals, clinics and doctors offices that are focused on cost reduction and efficiency will be able to provide ultrasounds without having to refer patients to imaging centers.
Every business, no matter what field, should think about how deploying a ‘portable computer’ can help to cut costs, improve communication or deliver services more expediently. Next week we will look at how smartphones are changing behavior in how people shop and interact with businesses. Stay tuned.
Quote of the Week
“Three objects are now considered essential across all participants, cultures and genders: keys, money and a mobile phone.” Jan Chipchase, Nokia
© 2014, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.