Endoscopy, the examination of interior surfaces of organs through the insertion of a small, flexible scope, is a standard practice in medical offices around the world. But the cost of a typical endoscope -- around $30,000 -- can be a real problem in poorer regions. Vietnam, for example, has but a single endoscope in each province. But a Vietnamese physician, Dr Nguyen Phuoc Huy, took advantage of the bloom in cheap, powerful digital technologies, and was able to build his own endoscope at a fraction of the cost of a standard device.
The homebrew endoscope combines a normal microscope (at $800, by far the most expensive part of the device) with inexpensive lenses, a webcam, and an old PC for image processing. Components, aside from the microscope, ended up costing under $300. Although the doctor notes that the PC runs Windows, in principle there's no reason why a similar system couldn't run Linux or other FLOS software.
Interestingly, the article makes no mention of one of the real advantages of this kind of system over more traditional endoscopes: built-in Internet access. With the applications built in to any modern operating system, the resulting images can be readily saved in web-standard formats and emailed around the world for consultation. In fact, it would take little effort to allow multiple doctors on the net to observe an endoscopic examination as it happens.
Remote medical assistance to developing regions can be worldchanging; I hope that Dr. Huy takes advantage of the potential of his invention.