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SPIE Professional January 2013

Smart phones get smarter

By Karen Thomas

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Just as the Swiss Army knife is known for its multiple functions beyond cutting and slicing, cell phones are much more than devices for just talking and listening. Advances in optics and photonics technology allow users to take pictures, create videos, play games, and locate their geographical position, just to name a few.

Now common medical diagnostics, such as taking temperature and checking for infections, are being added to the growing list of smart phone capabilities.

Remotoscope looks inside the ear

One of the most common medical conditions among preschoolers is otitis media or ear infection. These infections are caused either by a virus, which will eventually clear up on its own, or by bacteria, which requires treatment with antibiotics. As physicians in an emergency room will mostly likely see a child only once, they will often give antibiotics for viral infections rather than risk not using them to treat a possible bacterial infection, which could cause complications. Over treatment could lead to antibiotic resistance.

A new device called the Remotoscope allows parents to take pictures of their child’s eardrum using a smart phone. An accompanying app magnifies the image and sends it to a pediatrician who can study it remotely.

Emory University medical student Kathryn Rappaport uses the Remotoscope on Aaron Lam, 8. (Courtesy Georgia Tech)

Developed by researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology (USA) and Emory University (USA), the Remotoscope clips over a phone’s camera lens and flash, allowing it to take images of the ear canal. By receiving these images over several days, the physician can wait and see if the infection improves or if antibiotics are needed.

“Parents could receive a diagnosis at home and forgo the late-night trips to the emergency room,” says Wilbur Lam, assistant professor of pediatrics at Emory School of Medicine. “Kids who get ear infections early in life are at risk for recurrent ear infections. It can be a very big deal and really affect their families’ quality of life.”

IR thermometer for a smart phone

Another important aspect of medical diagnoses is taking a patient’s temperature. Body temperature plays a valuable role in the assessment of illness, particularly infections. Technology has made this age-old practice quick, efficient, and accurate, but getting a temperature reading can be difficult with a restless child or fidgety patient.

If physical contact isn’t possible, a sensor can be used to detect the intensity of the infrared light that naturally emanates from every surface. Since this light is proportional to surface temperature, a microprocessor can compute temperature by measuring the brightness of the light.

Using this concept, the Fraden Corp. infrared thermometer accurately measures body temperature without physical contact. An infrared sensor is positioned inside the smart phone next to its digital camera lens. With the phone held close to a patient’s temple, the sensor detects when its position is just right and instantly records body temperature. This method not only avoids physical contact but is helpful in preventing potential disease transmission.

The sensor can detect temperatures from –2º F to +400º F, making the device also useful for taking the temperature of inanimate objects and in industrial settings. The IR thermometer can check for possible hazards around automotive and production machinery, chemical processes, energy management, and construction as well as in areas near cooking and refrigeration appliances, a baby’s bathwater, or science classroom.

The company has received a U.S. patent for the device and says the technology may lead to a night-vision camera.

Photonics for a Better World

Read more articles and blog posts celebrating the many ways that photonics innovations are creating a better world:



DOI: 10.1117/2.4201301.16

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January 2013

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