Epidemiologists get mobile boost

Mobile app makes citizen scientists of us all

Researchers from Imperial College London.have developed a smartphone application called EpiCollect that enables users to record data, photos and videos in the field and then send the information to a central database, which records the user's location using coordinates from the phone's GPS system. The database can then display the data and where it was collected using Google Maps. The smartphones can also be used to request and view all the maps and analysis available for each project.

EpiCollect will enable research teams to build up and share maps of, for example, the distribution of an endangered species or cases of a disease, and so make it easier to analyse any patterns that emerge. The Imperial team is currently using the EpiCollect software in its studies of the epidemiology of bacterial and fungal infectious diseases.

David Aanensen from the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at Imperial College London, said: "We're excited about launching this new software - 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. 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. A key advantage is that data collected by researchers can also be requested from the website and displayed and analysed directly on the smartphone."

The researchers says that the public could also use EpiCollect to get involved in scientific research and that schools could use it on biology field courses.

"If a research team or a group of school children wants to look at how a particular species is spread across their locality, or the world, they can download the application for free and start collecting and submitting data to a project website," said Aanensen. "We hope that EpiCollect could also be used for community projects, for example projects that ask members of the public to track sightings of birdlife in their garden."

EpiCollect runs on the Android open-source mobile operating system. A version for the iPhone is in development.

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