Midwife's Ultrasound

Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are one of the leading causes of death for women worldwide. The majority of maternal deaths occur in developing regions, where women lack vital access to quality pre-natal care.

The DDI group, funded by a grant from the Gates Foundation, is designing a portable ultrasound unit that will help midwives in developing countries provide improved care, greatly reducing the risk of complications such as obstructed labor, hemorrhage and infection at birth. Because midwives in these communities often lack financial resources and in-depth training, we aim to design an ultrasound device that is cheaper, easier to use, and includes a comprehensive contextual help system to mitigate short training times.

In 2010, the team designed and developed a functioning prototype (netbook + USB ultrasound probe) which acquires ultrasound images and supports the process of optimizing these images. In January of 2011, members of the Ultrasound team will build upon this research with a visit to communities in Uganda to gain better understanding of local needs. The team is also presenting the research at the 2010 ACM ICTD DEV conference in London, UK.


Transportation is a crucial resource for moving people and goods. Looking at ways information-centric technologies can improve the experience of public transit riders is one of our core research projects. Recent work includes a project based in Kyrgyzstan, to build a grassroots transportation information technology, and one in Seattle looking at the information needs of transit-dependent riders.


A collaboration between undergraduates in Professor Gaetano Boriello's computer science capstone class and DDI group members, the Starbus project was a hardware and software design project that involved undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty. The solution is an SMS-based system for providing transit information based solely on existing cellular and GPS networks. The goal of the project was to find ways to create a transportation information system that doesn't require the participation or buy-in of major institutional players like local governments or cell providers. We also wanted to design a solution that built upon technology usage patterns already in place. Since we designed the system as part of the CAICT project, we used Kyrgyzstan as our deployment site. Consequently, our design process focused on issues of significant local mobile phone usage, extremely limited Internet penetration (and intermittent usage even among early adopters), heavy usage of SMS, and almost no phone-based web access.

After extensive testing and design, we developed a GPS-GSM unit from the ground up; the unit is placed on minibuses or any other shared transportation vehicle and communicates the vehicle's location back to central server. Users with basic cell phones can query our server via sms to find out when their current location (bus stop, landmark, etc.) will next be served by a shared transit vehicle. In other words, when will my bus be here? We also made sure the system wasn't dependent on users having GPS-enabled phones, so there is a shared as well as private location-tagging system for users. The system was deployed in a field test in Bishkek in 2009, when usability testing was also conducted. The code is available to anyone interested in building a grassroots transportation information infrastructure.

Transit Dependent Riders in Seattle

The lessons DDI members learned from conducting transportation related research in Central Asia led us to think more critically about this resource closer to home. The major piece of this research right now comprises dissertation work by Emma Rose and her ongoing collaboration with other DDI members. In summer 2010, Emma led a group researching transit-dependent riders in Seattle. Through innovative mixed-methods work, the group focused on how specific segments of the population used the local bus system, and how new aspects of the system--including RFID-based transit cards--could better meet the needs of these riders.

Their work raised issues of autonomy and resilience among user communities. Of note is their work using VideoVoice, an adaptation of PhotoVoice in order to develop deep insight into people's everyday usage patterns. This work is also core to the DDI belief that good design thinks about users on the margin who are often disempowered or overlooked by mainstream design approaches.

Non-Instrumental Computer Use

In many developing countries, citizens can only access a computer in public areas such as library or internet cafe. These venues provide otherwise inexperienced users a chance to chat, play games, send emails and participate in social networks.

In this study, we aim to look at whether these non-work activities (or non-instrumental use) can help people develop the comfort, skills, and expertise they need to improve their social and economic situations, particularly in the areas of employment and education.

This two-year study is a part of the Global Impact Study, a project funded by Canada's International Development Research Centre (IRDC). The project includes field work in Brazil and Chile, where DDI team members have visited cybercafes, libraries and telecenters to observe and interview users.

Learn more by visiting the Global Impact Study website.

Games and developing regions

Games, an example of non-instrumental computer use, are a rapidly growing segment of ICT, and the convergence of media and platforms has expanded games' reach into everyday engagement with technology. Most games research makes assumptions about what populations are able to or interested in integrating gaming into technology consumption patterns. Our research includes fieldwork, surveys, and interviews examining gaming patterns in developing regions, in part because games are often a technological entry point.

This particular research question is also of interest because of the intersection of youth and gaming, and many developing regions are experiencing a youth bubble.

Our research addresses questions such as: how do games get a foothold in resource-constrained environments? What platforms are most popular? Do people really play MMOs in emerging markets? How do infrastructure limitations affect gaming habits?

New Models for Science and Engineering Education

These members of the DDI community are studying informal science and engineering learning (aka the maker community) through hands-on, participant-observation projects. The initial core group started by building a 3D printer from a kit (a Makerbot). You can read more about their work at the project blog.

The goal of the project is to understand how people without technical skills approach technical tasks. The project is also focused on creating "semi-formal" learning environments within the larger umbrella of the formal educational institution of the university. Drawing on lessons from the research community in informal science education, engineering education, the Maker movement, and the hacker community, this work is ultimately interested in exploring how innovation occurs among novice communities. Put another way: if one were to hypothesize that expertise actually interferes with innovation, how might one create conditions to foster imagination and innovation? (i.e., see the ultrasound project).

Central Asia and Information and Communication Technology (CAICT)

The Central Asia + Information and Communication Technologies project is a multi-year investigation of Internet and related technology developments in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The project is funded by the National Science Foundation (award # 0326101).

The goal of this work is to make information and communication technology broadly usable by more diverse populations -- both in the US and in emerging markets. Research activities include a broad social survey in each country; interviews with professionals in education, medical, and business fields; overviews of mobile phone usage; studies of youth culture and technology use including gaming; and tracking of public Internet access facilities and Internet related policies. Learn more by visiting the project website.

Mobile Social Software

Major group effort in early 2007-2009 is focused on developing mobile social software MoSoSo that addresses activities of everyday life. Our current implementation focuses on Kyrgyzstan using mobile phone technology. Mobile phones are widely recognized as a potentially transformative technology platform for developing nations. However, for designers and programmers in the developed world to create viable applications for mobile phones involves first identifying and communicating user requirements for diverse users. We define diverse users as those from a substantively different cultural context than that in which the technology design occurs, including developing regions.

Findings from our data analysis and software prototyping should be relevant for diverse users in resource constrained computing environments generally.

Portable ultrasound device

Starbus system diagram