The year is 2020.

Somewhere in an African village a father is having a conversation with his son.

“When you were just a little boy, we didn’t have phones that check water quality.”

As incredible as it sounds, the technology is very real. The prototype was developed in just a few days by a local Montreal team during a hackathon called “Random Hacks of Kindness.” The event is about technology for humanitarian needs.

The Open Source Android App is called “Portable Microbiology Lab” and here is how it works:
A user puts a water sample on a 3M petrifilm and tells the App to register GPS coordinates of where the water was taken. After a 24 hour incubation period, the user photographs the petrifilm (example below).

The App then applies filters to the image and counts the bacterial colonies. Sophisticated image recognition shows if the bacteria is ”e.coli” (very bad), “total coliform” (bad), or environmental bacteria (not so bad): this is done by analyzing by the color and nearby bubbles.

Afterwards, all the information including the image is uploaded onto a server. In the future it may tell humanitarian workers and residents that a Tanzanian lake at XYZ coordinates has a bad concentration of e.coli.

The beauty of the app is that water sources can be as small as tiny water wells, but information about its water quality is available through something as huge as the World Wide Web.

Application developers are working closely with John Feighery PhD, a former research associate at NASA, who will perform lab trials this April to test the accuracy of the app when it comes to counting and analyzing bacteria.

If the lab trials succeed the Portable Microbiology kit will hit Tanzanian soil as early as July for additional field testing.

Android phones capable of taking these pictures cost less than 120$. Combine this with affordability of ‘Portable Microbiology kits’, that can be incubated using body heat, and we may end up with a sustainable solution to help fight water problems that plague many parts of the world.

This goes to show the value of hackathons such as RHOK Montreal, which themselves are a lot like incubators: Put a bunch of smart, passionate people in one room, incubate them for a few hours and let them grow whatever they want.

Oh, the magic of Petrifilm!

Team working on the App includes: Clayton Grassick, Gina Cook (@cesine7), George Peristerakis (@peristerakis), Amir Pakdel, John Feighery (@rocketboy76), Adriana Olmos and Pablo Duboue (@pabloduboue). RHOK Montreal was organized by Angelique Mannella (@angemannella).

by ildar khakimov (@ildarius)

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