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OsteoApp

Researchers:
Professor Shwetak Patel (PI)
Josh Fromm, graduate student, electrical engineering
Alex Mariakakis, graduate student, computer science and engineering

About every three seconds, someone suffering from osteoporosis breaks a bone. Even so, most cases of osteoporosis still go undiagnosed, since the two current methods for detecting the disease are expensive and unwieldly. But what if people could screen themselves? What if they could do it inexpensively, and at home, using just their smartphone? That is what a team of engineers and computer scientists led by Josh Fromm hopes to enable. They are developing OsteoApp, an app for smartphones that tests bone density and tells the user whether they are at a significant risk for bone disease. Just like any other solid, be it a guitar string or a rock, bones have a natural frequency at which they resonate. OsteoApp uses a vibration technique that emits a pulse from the smartphone, causing a bone to “ring” at its resonate frequency—a function of the bone’s stiffness and density. The smartphone’s microphone then listens to the ringing bone. From this, OsteoApp can estimate bone density and recommend whether the user contact a physician—staving off pain and suffering for middle-aged or older women and men all over the world.