I recently had the opportunity to interview Fiona Oloo and Boitumelo Mantji, two young African women who worked on a prototype for an electronic stethoscope. The two saw the need for designing, building and testing an electronic stethoscope, whose design will enhance the audio capability of an acoustic stethoscope, including data logging and a phonogram.
Fiona and Boitumelo have both recently obtained their second degrees at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa - Honours degrees in Electrical Engineering. They also have a Bachelor of Science in Engineering (Electrical Engineering) and a Bachelor of Engineering Science in Biomedical Engineering, respectively.
BAIA: What led you to this field of study?
Boitumelo: It was my desire to help people with medical challenges, but I wanted to use my passion for Technology and Science to do that. The application of engineering principles to medicine would mean better diagnostics for people because engineers are solution driven. I always liked the idea of being an engineer because it integrated Mathematics and Physics which I am passionate about. Biomedical engineering had all of this, including biology which I loved.
Fiona: I’ve always had an interest in medical knowledge, not necessarily to be a practitioner, but leaning more towards Mathematics and Physics. Biomedical Engineering encompasses all three. I’ve always been interested in making medical technology accessible to all people. Electrical engineering is not just a field pivotal to the technology used in medicine, but also a strong interest that had grown and continues to grow.
BAIA: What led you to work on this project?
Working on the model for an electronic stethoscope was towards the fulfilment of our qualifications. What is even more exciting was that it was a well-integrated project for our skills set. The project aimed at improving the quality of diagnosis by attempting to standardise diagnostics. This is what we found to be the most attractive part of the project.
BAIA: How different is the design of your electronic stethoscope from other electronic ones?
Our prototype performs all the basic functionalities of existing electronic stethoscopes, but it is more cost effective as it can be produced with a minimal budget. In addition, it includes a feature for sound extraction which can identify the origin of various internal bodily sounds that is, the heart, lungs and gastrointestinal sounds.
BAIA: What are the exciting features of your design?
What is thrilling is its potential! It is capable of proper diagnosis. It was a good proof of concept with all the basic functionality of existing models. The fact that we could produce a working prototype within a constrained budget and time frame is something we are quite proud of.
BAIA: Is your stethoscope going to be actually produced?
At this stage it is something we are still discussing. Considering it is a prototype, it needs a bit more work. The stethoscope potential needs to be realised into something marketable before we move towards making decisions regarding its production.
BAIA: Where do you see yourselves in future?
Apart from our day jobs as engineers in the near future, we hope that we will still be working on or would have worked on more projects together within our industry.