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Phones, Drones, and Offline Data Collection

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Phones, Drones, and Offline Data Collection

Phones, Drones, and Offline Data Collection

Repost: Written by me, originally published on the DataWinners site for Human Network International

This was originally published as “Phones, Drones, and DataWinners.” The post has been updated to reflect the fact that the concept would work with any smartphone app that facilitates offline data collection.

No roads. No cell tower. No Wi-Fi. How could you use a smartphone app when your data senders have no way to submit the data they have collected?

Recently we’ve seen some innovative examples of projects the global health sector that use either remotely piloted drones or autonomous drones to reach remote locations quickly.

Remote towns that lack the infrastructure to receive medical supplies and send information are susceptible to an increase in maladies. Drones can bypass the inefficiency of the physical landscape to lessen a town’s vulnerability.

The United Nations Population Fund has experimented with delivering condoms and other medical supplies to remote villages in Ghana using remotely piloted drones. Stony Brook University successfully tested using autonomous drones to deliver medicines and supplies to a distant village in Madagascar, and return with blood and fecal samples.

Could these drones also shuttle a smartphone loaded with the an offline-capable smartphone app, and provide the health workers with the benefits of a robust data collection system?

With the use of two smartphones and a physical means of transportation, data can be uploaded into the network in a timely and reliable way. Where a network connection is not an option, drones have a data speed advantage over other forms of data delivery.

A Scenario: One Drone, Two Phones

In a remote clinic health workers work offline using Smartphone A with the smartphone app to track patient health information, medical supplies, etc.

Drone at Headquarters
Smartphone A is used offline to collect data at the remote location. Headquarters is online.

Workers in the main clinic place Smartphone B into the cargo compartment of the drone. The drone then travels from a main clinic to the remote town. Upon arrival, the workers remove the incoming medical supplies and Smartphone B. They load the drone with their lab samples and Smartphone A.

Drone at remote site
At the remote site Smartphone B is removed from the drone, Smartphone A is inserted.

The autonomous drone then makes its way back to the main clinic where the workers receive Smartphone A. Smartphone A was filled with data at the remote clinic, which is then submitted to the main system with the use of an available cellular or Wi-Fi network.

Drone returns to headquarters
At headquarters the finalized Questionnaires can be submitted from Smartphone A.

With this hypothetical scenario, the remote clinic delivers better quality of care thanks the ability to exchange medicines and lab samples rapidly with headquarters. And with a well-chosen smartphone app the headquarters can better support the remote clinic with near-real-time information on patients and health worker management.

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