Project SEARCH: Scanning ears for child health
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Project SEARCH (Scanning Ears for Child Health) attempts to solve one of the longest standing and most fundamental challenges in global public health: identifying individuals over time and space.
The problem is easy to state: In poorer countries, the kinds of ID systems that we take for granted, like social security numbers, birth dates, medical insurance cards, etc. either do not exist or are extremely unreliable.
The result is that nearly every patient encounter acts in isolation, since there is rarely a record of events that have occurred in the past. Many groups have attempted to solve this through the use of electronic medical records: an excellent strategy, in theory. Unfortunately, an electronic medical record is no better than a paper record if you still can't identify the individual.
For the past six months, a three-person team at the Center for Global Health and Development at the BU School of Public Health has been attempting to solve this problem through the use of biometrics, and more specifically by imaging ears.
Why not fingerprints, iris scanning, or facial recognition? Because these ID systems either require sophisticated and expensive tools (iris scanners) or software (facial recognition), or carry some negative connotations, which people tend to equate with law enforcement (fingerprinting).
But ears are impersonal. People pay attention to earrings or piercings, but rarely to the ears themselves: a typical husband would probably not be able to identify his wife's ears if they were presented to him in a line up. Yet, ears are unique—as it turns out, they are every bit as unique as fingerprints or irises. Lastly, they are right there, and extracting data from them, by using a camera on a smart phone, is not intimidating, intrusive, nor painful.
Why we need you
Our goal is to create a simple, digital, automated application, suitable as a smart phone app, that would capture image data from individual's ears, and that could later reimage and recapture that subject's identify.
Our second goal is to create a physical cradle, to ensure consistency of both angle and distance when the photos are taken.
Doing this would allow us to know instantly whether a child seen today for an ear infection was up to date with his or her childhood vaccinations; we could tell that the child in the clinic with chronic diarrhea had been exposed to HIV at birth and might be more seriously ill than initially thought. In fact, there is an enormous amount of valuable information that could be accessed if, and only if, we could identify individuals simply, accurately, and repeatedly over time and space.
Check us out on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ProjectSEARCHBU