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Rachel wants us to take out our mobile phones and hold them up. Virtually everyone in the room has a phone, each of which has more power than the computers which helped to put a man on the moon. And they can help provide an early warning system for viruses.
Viruses and other infectious diseases are some of the main threats to our increasingly interconnected world. Ebola highlights the threat, and the importance of public health. Doctors protect individuals. Public health protects populations. The reality is that most countries have little public health provision, so Ebola went undetected for 3 months, until it was ready to explode.
The flu pandemic in 1918-20 killed more people than World War I. Pandemic influenza is at the top of the UK government risk register, and it’s not ‘if’ but ‘when’. It’s not just a question of health, but the economy and provision of essential services. Also, antimicrobial resistance is growing, which the Chief Medical Officer describes as a ticking timebomb.
If someone is infected, there is an incubation period before symptoms arise, during which there is a risk of passing it on. There are more delays before diagnosis and intervention, which has a serious effect on PH efforts to prevent the virus spreading. So we need to pick up infections at the onset of symptoms.
Rachel’s team, across many disciplines and organisations, is using reporting of symptoms on the web to form early warning systems. There are 7bn mobile subscriptions in the world. Mobiles are the most sophisticated technology in remote villages in developing countries. The first report of SARS in China was by the public.
Many of us use our mobiles to search the web about our health. Google Flu Trends, based on anonymised searches, provides information 2 weeks ahead of official sources. Tweets also provide lots of information about symptoms. Together, they are being used to create a nowcasting service.
But symptoms don’t imply the same diagnoses, so the team is also bringing diagnostic technology to the people. It uses self-swabbing kits, which are posted back to labs. And phone sensors are now being used to do the diagnosis on the ground. Further, the team has produced bio-barcodes, readable by phone cameras, which can diagnose e.g. HIV. This is all linked to the provision of interventions.
Mobile technology was used in the fight against Ebola – text alerts, communication of test results, etc. It’s still early days, though. The challenge is to develop a means of detecting Ebola and the like 3 months earlier. And the public and public education are the main tools. Together we can fight infectious diseases.
Joel got into robots because he thought they were cool. His first robot was Clean3PO, which stumbled around his parents’ kitchen.
His favourite robots are those that are inspired by nature, which to many people are creepy. [I’m not going to look up at the video of an 8-legged overly-realistic robot.]
The most natural movement is in the human hand. Each hand has 29 bones, 34 muscles and 123 ligaments. Is it possible to replicate this robotically without necessarily replicating all these intricacies?
Joel built his first effort from stuff he found around the home, but he still managed to get some realistic movement.
When he studied robotics at university, he found that the options for amputees needing a prosthetic was limited, in terms of cost and functionality. He realised that what he was doing could change people’s lives. He wanted to get the latest technology to amputees at an affordable price.
His next hand was sheet aluminium, and chopped up rubber gloves for a nice touch. This attracted a lot of interest, so he made the design open source.
After a stint at an engineering company, he returned to the project and investigated the potential of 3D printing. He quit his job, bought a 3D printer, and moved back in with his parents(!) He could see the potential of 3D printing for both cheap and tailored production. His design uses free software all the way. His latest model can cope with being knocked about, and has smooth and natural movement. The video looks great, but the model he has on stage only has 2 working fingers. The leading prosthetic costs $18K. He plans to sell his for only $1K. For growing children, he can reprint only the parts that need to be replaced over time. Kids’ hands can be customised to look cool instead of awkward.
Joel has found his only limitation has been in his ambition. The next time you use your hands to do something, taken a moment to think about the complex intricacies. Technology has the power to mimic this freedom, and it doesn’t have to cost the earth.
Here’s a Vine of “Dextrus hand closing and opening. Except for the pinky finger!” If you can’t view the embedded film, it’s available here.