The first presentation I checked out at the Imagine Cup was from Team Dragon, a group of Rice University students hoping to combat childhood asthma using a mobile game.

As they pointed out to the judges, the most important aspect of asthma treatment is daily measurement of lung capacity, measured either witha peak flow meter, or ideally with a more advanced device called a spirometer. Unfortunately, maintaining a daily log of a child’s lung capacity proves tedious over time, and only about 50% of affected families maintain the regimen. Team Dragon’s proposal is to make the process less like a chore, and turn it into a game that kids will actually want to play.

The project was made possible by Rice researchers’ creation of the world’s first open source spirometer, which the team modified to interface with a Windows 7 Phone. The device requires patients to breath out as hard and long as possible, outputting a bell curve of lung capacity over time.

The game, Azmo the Dragon, maps this behavior to a dragon breathing fire. Measurements near or above a player’s baseline reading will be sufficient to burn down a castle, while measurements below the baseline will give the castle time to scramble water-toting maids to put out the fire. The spirometer readings are tracked over time and graphed within the app to give patients and doctors an idea of whether the asthma is improving or getting worse. The data won’t export to any medically-accepted format as of yet, but it’s on the team’s to-do list. They also mentioned the possibility of adding geolocation elements to the game, such as normalizing spirometer readouts based on altitude or daily pollen count.

Before reaching the lung-testing boss castle, the game does force players to fly through a world and destroy a number of smaller enemies using a combination of tilting and tapping, a process taking several minutes. I worry that parents may not have the patience for kids to play a game every day before giving their spirometer reading, and I also worry that the game will get too repetitive over time. The team is competing in the game design category here at the Imagine Cup, but the app seems like it could easily be stripped downfor adults who simply want a smartphone-connected spirometer.

This is a Microsoft event, so Azmo the Dragon is currently only ported to Windows Phone 7, but the team will likely need to adopt iOS and Android in the future in order to earn get broad user support. In this early demo though, the game seems like a very promising project that could absolutely hit the market in the near future, especially if Team Dragon can win the support of doctors.

UPDATE: Team Dragon took third place in the mobile game design category. If I could be editorial for a moment, it’s robbery they didn’t win it.