Project Details


Tracking lung function through the phone

By Ubi Comp Lab - University of Washington

Project URL:
Project Twitter: @UW

Organisation Twitter: @N/A

  • Health
  • Data
  • Mobile
  • Physical Computing

Lung impairments account for 10% of global deaths, and the only way to diagnose chronic lung diseases like asthma, cystic fibrosis or emphysema is with a spirometer – a medical device that measures lung function. 

Spirometers cost several hundred dollars, and can be difficult to use at home, while in many rural areas in the world, a trip to the doctor can take a whole day. 

A research team at the University of Washington in the US have been working to address the problem. At first, they developed a smartphone app that worked nearly as well as a spirometer, but the solution was limited by the fact that 85% of the world’s population do not have access to smartphones. 

At the same time, the UN reports that almost 86% of the world population does have some kind of a phone for making voice calls, so the team shifted focus on creating a model that could mimic the function of a spirometer through soundwaves. 

Using data from more than 4,000 patients in the US, India and Bangladesh, SpiroCall provides users with a free number to call, and when prompted, to exhale hard into the phone’s microphone. The sound is fed into a cloud, analysed at a central location, and the diagnosis is returned to the recipient’s phone number in a text message soon after hanging up. 

With a margin of error within 6.2%, SpiroCall is comparable to clinical spirometers. The team have also developed a 3D-printed ‘whistle’, which can be used to amplify exhalations of people who are too ill to breathe out at maximum capacity, or if their microphone isn’t sensitive enough. Currently available in the US, India and Bangladesh, the project has vast potential to identify and cure more people with lung diseases around the world. 

Image courtesy of SpiroCall

Last updated: 22nd of August, 2016

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