U.S. grad students create app to diagnose malaria

Team "LifeLens" writes a program that analyzes photos of blood samples taken by the microscopic camera in a Samsung Focus running on Windows 7.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read
Team LifeLens

It isn't every day that the second-place winner of a competition is as interesting, if not more so, than the first-place winner. But at the national level of Microsoft's 9th annual Imagine Cup, competition is tight, and the team that took second in the software design category Tuesday deserves attention.

Called Team LifeLens, the students from universities across the country developed an app that uses a Samsung Focus running on Windows 7 to photograph blood samples and diagnose malaria. And they've only been working on it since November 2010.

Computer engineering grad student Tristan Gibeau of the University of Central Florida remembers the day he got the algorithm right to get the cell detector running. "I was ecstatic," he says. "I was running around, just so excited."

According to the World Health Organization, almost 800,000 people die from malaria every year, with 90 percent of the deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa. The beauty of the LifeLens app is that it doesn't require Internet access--just the phone, slide, and app. They're also building a case to hold it all.

Gibeau says the lens "is the last part of the puzzle," and that his team lost to first-place winners Team Note-Taker from Arizona State University because it's still buggy on Windows 7. They're currently working with UC Davis and the actual Windows phone team to get it running smoothly. (The prototype used version 6.5.)

The first-place team, by the way, developed Note-Taker, a camera and touch-screen tablet PC allowing users to simultaneously view live video and take typed or handwritten notes on a split-screen interface.