Smartphone application to empower 'citizen scientists'
16 September 2009
The programme, EpiCollect, is designed to help scientists in the field to analyse their data remotely and map findings without having to return to the lab.
Developed by researchers at Imperial College London, the smartphone application allows the user to collect and record data, photos and videos and sends this to a central web-based database.
The software is simple to use and free to download. The researchers hope this will enable schoolchildren and other members of the public to get involved in scientific research.
"Our software is ideal for projects where multiple people collect data in the field and submit these to a central website for mapping and analysis," said David Aanensen from Imperial College London, who led the study.
"EpiCollect could be used for community projects, for example projects that ask members of the public to track sightings of birdlife in their garden.It should be much quicker and simpler to submit sightings to the website by phone than email or the post."
The website uses the phone's GPS system to record the user's location and can display all of the data collected on the topic across the world using Google Maps.
Users can request and view all the maps and analyses through their phones. This allows researchers to quickly and easily build up and share maps of, for example, disease cases or the distribution of endangered species, so that they can identify patterns in the data.
"Researchers have been able to send information by phone before, but this is the first time that we have been able to link all the functionality of smartphone technology to a web-based database for scientists to use," said Aanensen.
EpiCollect has been designed for phones running the Android open-source operating system developed by Google and the Open Handset Alliance. The researchers have also produced a beta version for the Apple iPhone, which they hope will make the software available to more people.
Image: EpiCollect being used in the field. Credit: Lucy Goodchild/Imperial College London
Aenensen AM et al. EpiCollect: Linking smartphones to web applications for epidemiology, ecology and community data collection. PLoS One 2009.