Team OneBuzz Uses Computers to Defeat Malaria
Though we may not hear much about it in developed nations, Malaria remains one of the world’s biggest dampers on life expectancy, with nearly half of the world’s population only one mosquito bite away from infection. Despite these risks, aid workers and doctors in at-risk countries don’t have a good way of distributing medicine and mosquito netting to those who need it.
Enter OneBuzz, the 2011 contribution from the Imagine Cup’s defending champions from New Zealand. OneBuzz is a software platform to distribute Malaria supplies and predict outbreaks, capabilities that would be invaluable to those working in the field. With OneBuzz, local doctors can send inventory updates to a local medicine distribution manager via SMS, the best widely-available tech you’ll find in many developing nations. OneBuzz parses this information automatically, and uses it to help the manager decide where to send medicine.
The real magic behind OneBuzz though is its predictive capabilities. Malaria is a cyclic disease, and cases ebb and flow based on a number of environmental factors. For example, if meteorologists expect the monsoon rains to arrive a week early, doctors would have to scramble in preparation for an increase in malaria infections. OneBuzz could ease the shock on the system by automatically routing medicine from doctors with surplusses to those with shortages in a matter of days, rather than the two weeks it would take to get new medicine from an urban warehouse to far-flung physicians. Amazingly, OneBuzz can even tap into spectral satellite imagery to track standing water that might harbor mosquitos, and add this data to its medicine and net-distributing algorithms.
As it stands today, aid workers have no unified system, and certainly nothing with the predictive power of OneBuzz, to collaborate and get help to those most in need. These students’ accomplishment is even more impressive when you realize that while most Imagine Cup teams are still working on perfecting their first prototypes, OneBuzz has already arrived on the market. The team is incubated with Icehouse, is working with the European Space Agency to improve algorithms, and is already field testing in rural India. As Chuck Lawton from the Wired blog GeekDad pointed out to me, no matter what the outcome of the Imagine Cup, Team OneBuzz has already won.
UPDATE: Team OneBuzz surprisingly did not finish in the top 3 of software design.