Can a Windows Phone help fight malaria? These guys think so.

Can a Windows Phone help fight malaria? These guys think so.

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Some people write apps for fun.Members of the Lifelens team, including Wilson To (second from left) are building an app and micro-lens add on for Windows Phone to diagnose milaria from a drop of blood. Others for cash.

Then there’s Wilson To, a 25-year-old University of California grad student who’s developing an app to turn Windows Phone into a weapon against disease. His target: malaria, which kills thousands of young children in sub-Saharan Africa each year.

Today Microsoft awarded To and three other student groups working on life-altering tech projects $75,000 to help them commercialize their work or take it to the next stage of development.

The awards, announced this morning at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, are part of the inaugural Imagine Cup Grants program—a new three-year, $3 million offshoot of the company’s popular Imagine Cup student technology competition, now in its 10th year.

All of the winning projects announced today are impressive—just take a look at the Imagine Cup blog and you’ll see what I mean. One Croatian team used Kinect to help kids with cerebral palsy.  Combining Windows and a Wii-mote, a team from Jordan made it possible for people who are paralyzed to use a computer and phone.

But, as you might expect, the two winning projects involving Windows Phones particularly caught my eye.

The first comes from Falcon Dev, a student team based in Ecuador that’s working on making a Windows Phone translate speech into sign language for kids who are hearing impaired, something they’ve already achieved on a Windows PC. The project is called SkillBox—but you have to scroll down and see the video to appreciate how cool it really is.

And finally there’s the Lifelens project led by Wilson To.  Using a special micro-lens, the Lifelens team can resolve individual cells, as shown here.  A custom app can ID ones with malaria.Using a custom-made app and a tiny lens scrounged from an old CD player, he and his team have made it possible for a Windows Phone to diagnose malaria from a drop of blood. (The add-on lens can magnify blood cells 350 times.)

Watch the video below or check out this recent Forbes write-up for specifics.

There are already cheap and accurate blood tests for malaria available. But the team thinks a tech-based diagnostic tool still has advantages: Lifelens is being designed to map confirmed cases and transmit real-time results to public health workers, potentially helping them track malaria cases more effectively.

Next steps for To and company: a snap-on case containing the micro-lens. They’re also planning to conduct more lab tests this summer, followed by field testing sometime later. As Business Week reported last year, To eventually hopes to make his Windows Phone app capable of recognizing other blood-borne scourges, such as sickle cell anemia.

“Malaria is just the beginning,” he told the magazine.

Have you figured out a way to make your Windows Phone change the world? Sign up for the Imagine Cup 2012 Windows Phone Challenge, sponsored by Nokia. Your team could win up to $8000 and a trip to the Imagine Cup 2012 finals in Sydney this summer.

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  • Just amazing. Never imagined such things can be achieved with a phone. I guess thats the whole point of Imagine Cup. Great work!! For people who think this wont be effective, remember that this is just the beginning. Keep innovating!

  • Actually there is a huge hunger for the kind Nokia Smartphones in Africa.  I love this app and will write it up for our blog. Check this out for a Microsoft perspective in South Africa

  • @ Kenny, I hope you guys get some great hardware.

  • KR
    503 Posts


    Not sure if we'll get the Titan or focus S in Canada.i was going to get the Titan 1 from the states,but I hate what US carriers do to phones,by sticking their names on the phones as if the manufacture them.and Canadian carriers are weird,they don't garanti the full functionality of any phone on their network which you didn't buy from them and worst when it comes to phones bought outside the country at times even when u call for support they simply tell you they can't help coz u didn't buy it from them,even if you question is not directly linked to your device

  • abm
    268 Posts

    Sorry I misread it ...fight* not flight ...lolx... but hey Flight is a cool game to have on your WP! 8-)

  • abm
    268 Posts

    Malaria Flight is a nice touch!

    Someday soon, I would like to play Microsoft Flight on WP!

    Any chance of this happening in near future?

    Please comment.

  • Besides my keyboard droping constantly I have another issue that could use some consideration by the WP team. Notifications! When I am typing a message it is very annoying when a notification takes over the screen and ruins my train of though. I don't mind the audible alert, but to take me away from what I am doing is counter productive and not smart. It would be nice if when WP wants to send me a notification the software would notice that I have been typing for the past few seconds and decide when the next "free" time would be appropriate to display a notification. Just never stop me from doing what I am doing. Another thing that is frustrating is if I get a text message and ignore the audible alert and navigate stair to the messaging hub and begin to type my reply, why is it that the service is still telling me that I have a new message? If I am in that persons message why would WP feel that it needs to continue to alert me? It would be nice if we had more options to control these what could be great features with just a little tweeting, and more options....

  • That's good that someone decided to make a app that can really help people. We need more apps like this and I hope the developer continues to make more... He deserves a WP tshirt!!!!!.... What the hell let's just get all the WP fans a Tshirt... Yes!

  • tsrblke
    327 Posts


    Actually there's a lot of interest in "proof of concept" work for things like this that, small devices that can be taken to 3rd world countries for fairly cheaply to help aid workers/doctors with complex problems.  1st word docs won't use it (because we have expensive testing facilities) but resource strapped doctors in the 3rd world might.  Microscopes are often expensive and even when cheap are a pain and the butt to move around.

  • The effectiveness of such an app to detect malaria fails me. Who is gonna use it? People that suffer from malaria usually don´t go around with a smartphone. Doctors won´t use it for obvious reasons. BUT!, if we are talking about raising awareness to the problem, kudos to them. It is true in the end that they´re trying something different and that their heart is in it.