StethoCloud: Australian College Students Build A Digital Stethoscope And Mobile App To Fight Childhood Pneumonia

The finals of Microsoft’ Imagine Cup, the world’s largest student technology competition, are taking place in Sydney this week and StethoCloud, the Melbourne-based home team, is definitely making a good case for Australia’s growing tech scene. The competition’s theme challenged students to build apps that “help solve the toughest problems” and the Australian team decided to tackle childhood pneumonia, which – despite the fact that it’s highly curable when detected early – sadly still kills more children than measles, malaria and HIV combined. The key to survival, says the Australian team, is to detect the illness early, but that’s obviously not easy for community health workers or unskilled staff in developing countries.

Using a Windows 7 phone (this is a Microsoft competition after all) and a digital stethoscope combined with the StethoCloud software running on the phone and in the cloud, the service’s backend can analyze a patient’s breathing patterns and look for signs of the earliest stages of pneumonia. The approach itself is based on the World Health Organization’s diagnostics manual for the management of childhood illness.

Team StethoCloud

The team expects its stethoscope to cost around $15 to $20. This is significantly cheaper than current digital stethoscopes in the market which tend to cost hundreds of dollars. The device simply plugs in the phone’s stereo jack and besides the analog-to-digital conversion, all of the analysis happens in the cloud using Windows Azure.

The team argues that the cost of the phone itself is somewhat negligible, as smartphones are quickly becoming more common even in the developing countries where childhood pneumonia is most prevalent. It’s worth noting that StethoCloud also developed a version of its app that is running on Nokia feature phones.

What’s especially impressive about this team is that the whole project only started earlier this year. Even though the group only consists of four people, StethoCloud build and tested various prototypes of its digital stethoscope and algorithms in this short time period. The team’s pitch, by the way, was more polished than that of many highly funded startups I’ve interviewed and the group also makes a compelling business case based on other uses for the data it plans to collect from patients around the world. Asthma, specifically, is a disease the group is planning to target next. Using its self-developed algorithms and hardware, which the team is looking to patent, StethoCloud thinks it can also branch out to other diseases next.

Image credit: Daniel Brusilovsky