"The word âMashavu' means âchubby cheeked' in Swahili, and
that's what we want all the children in East Africa to look like," said Khanjan Mehta, senior research
associate in the School of Engineering at Penn State University explaining the
rationale behind the name of an innovative program that is bringing networked
health solutions to the developing world. Mehta was speaking at Thursday's keynote session at
NIWeek, during which several student teams were describing their use of LabVIEW, a graphical programming
environment for developing measurement, test, and control systems.
The explicit goal of the Mashavu
program, which involves more than 100 students and 6 faculty members across
8 colleges at Penn State, is to connect people in East
Africa to physicians and improve their access to healthcare. There
is only one doctor for every 50,000 people here, as compared to every 390
people in the US.
Though doctors are not in abundance in this region of the
world, cell phones are, explained Metha. "Some 97% of the people in East Africa have access to cell phones, and PCs are
getting into more and more places. We realized that there was an opportunity to
leverage the network to connect the rural community to doctors."
One of the primary engineering goals of the Mashavu program
is to develop affordable medical devices that can operate under oftentimes
rugged and harsh conditions. According to Mehta, even $60 for a device to
measure a patient's lung capacity is too costly in a region of the world where
the mean income is less than $1 per day.
Leveraging virtual instrumentation, students who take a Bioengineering Junior Design class taught by Peter Butler are redesigning a range of devices,
including a spirometer and a pulse rate monitor. "One of the main goals is to minimize
the hardware and move as much as possible into the software on the computer,"
says Mehta. "So Mashavu's biomedical
devices consist of a sensor and the minimal hardware around it. The signal
conditioning and display are in the LabVIEW
program on the computer."
Biomedical Engineering Student Brittany Flaherty demonstrated a proof-of-concept,
$10 pulse rate monitor developed through the Mashavu program by taking the
pulse of Ray Almgren, vice president of academic marketing at NI, during the
keynote. (It was 90 bpm.) Simple in
design, it consists of a sensor attached to cardboard, a Velcro strap, and a
USB port. Flaherty described how LabVIEW
software is used to take the sensor outputs and compute a pulse. The
information is then uploaded to a server, where a doctor anywhere would be able
to access the information.
Teams are currently testing the devices in the field, having
just returned from three weeks in East Africa.
With a fully functional proof-of-concept in hand and testing underway, the
emphasis is now shifting to commercialization efforts. Penn State's
plan is to put as much of the IP out there as possible and find a partner who
will commercialize the product.
As for the engineering students, Mehta says that the program
offers them an amazing opportunity to get real-world design experience and see
first-hand the impact of their work. "People were excited about the
technology," says Flaherty. "We met some seniors who had never had their blood
pressure taken or their weight measured in their life."
NI's website features a detailed article on the Mashavu stethoscope project.