Ultrasound for Ugandan midwives
2010 - 2012
UX researcher and designer on a Bill & Melinda Gates-sponsored project focused on building a low-cost ultrasound device for midwives in developing regions, specifically for women working in rural environments.
uganda field work


Ultrasound is a safe and effective way to identify pregnancy complications. Unfortunately, ultrasound technology is scarce because of the high cost of the technology.

For two years, I researched and designed for a portable, low cost portable ultrasound device to help decrease maternal death rates in rural Uganda.


  • Field studies in the Isingiro District and Kampala, job shadowing with midwives in clinics
  • Contextual inquiries with radiologists in Seattle hospitals
  • Interviews with Ugandan mothers to understand their experiences with prenatal care and ultrasound screenings
  • Surveys sent to Ugandan midwives for feedback as the prototype progressed

What we built

Based on research, we built a simplified ultrasound application that utilized an Interson USB probe attached to a netbook. We iterated until radiologists, sonographers, and midwives both in the U.S. and Uganda verified that the device could successfully diagnose the three most common complications.

The device cost was $3,500 using a modular off-the-shelf approach rather than an all-in-one system. We also added an integrated contextual help feature that helped supplement the limited sonography training received by the midwives, helping to answer diagnostic questions when a radiologist isn't available.

Scanning fetus head

scanning fetus head

Learning topic about sonography

learning sonography

Comparing ultrasound images

comparing images

Output and impact

I co-authored three academic papers:

  1. W. Brunette; W. Gerard; M. Hicks; A. Hope; R. Anderson; G. Borriello; B. Kolko; R. Nathan. "Portable Antenatal Ultrasound Platform for Village Midwives." ACM Computing for Development (DEV), December 2010.
  2. A. Hope; M. Hicks; W. Gerard; P. Prasad; K. Saville; W. Brunette; L. Ham; J. Keh; R. Anderson; G. Borriello; B. Kolko; R. Nathan. "Designing an Intelligent Medical Assistant for Diagnostic Ultrasound." International Conference on Intelligent User Interfaces (IUI), February 2011.
  3. W. Brunette; M. Hicks; A. Hope; G. Ruddy; R. Anderson; B. Kolko. "Reducing Maternal Mortality: An Ultrasound System for Village Midwives." IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference (GHTC), October 2011.

Our work broadened the conversation in the medical community about the needs for simplified lower cost medical technology. GE, Philips, and other medical device companies became aware of our work. In addition, our project advisor Beth Kolko started Shift Labs, a company focused on developing low cost medical technology.

For more about this work, please watch this TEDx presentation from Beth Kolko: