The Vodafone Wireless Innovation Project (@VodafoneProject), similar to the DataDesignDiabetes Challenge, is a developer challenge with big rewards for the winners and a history of picking winners with big ideas and jaw dropping technology.

Vodafone is the largest cellular provider in the world, but has zero customers in the US and most of the developed world, so they have a special interest in technologies with disruptive potential for emerging markets.

Vodafone also partners with the mHealth Alliance to offer $50K of in-kind contributions, making the sizable cash reward even sweeter for the winning mHealth-focused applicant.

The 2011 mHealth Alliance Award winner was EyeNETRA, maker of a $2 smartphone attachment capable of diagnosing vision impairment as well as any eye doctor, potentially bringing prescription glasses to everybody in the world who needs them for a lower cost than ever dreamed possible. I had a chance to demo the EyeNETRA technology myself at the mHealth Summit when I interviewed co-founder and CEO David Schafran.

The 2012 mHealth Alliance Award recipient, and second place winner of the Vodafone Wireless Innovation Project, OScan is developing a revolutionary smartphone attachment that diagnoses oral cancer using high resolution imaging to scan the oral cavity for lesions. Seventy-percent of tabacco use is in developing markets, leading to a large number of diseases of the oral cavity, including oral cancer. If oral lesions can be detected and treated early, survival rates for oral cancer would improve dramatically.

OScan was developed at the Manu Prakash Lab in Stanford University’s Biological Engineering Department as what appears to be a collaboration between Manu Prakash and John B. Sunwoo, Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology (Head and Neck Surgery) at the Stanford School of Medicine. The OScan team has also received a Stanford-Coulter Translational Research Grant to fund its efforts to commercialize the work of Drs. Prakash and Sunwoo.

OScan seems to take a similar view of the rural Indian market to BioSense, developers of the ToucHb device for diagnosing aneomia in rural India without the need for a clinician. Both recognize the shear density of the population and the relative scarcity of the medical specialists typically needed to conduct certain diagnostic tests and ultimately administer effective treatment by Western standards.

Both have devised methods for leveraging technology to replace the clinician at the point-of-care and conduct lifesaving diagnostic functions for a fraction of the cost. From a business model perspective, the ToucHb is much more of a “lab-on-a-chip” device and the OScan is much closer to the EyeNETRA model of a cheap yet powerful combination of native software application and well designed smartphone attachment.

The one unclear distinction is the implication OScan will be universally available on all camera phones, not just smartphones. At first glance, it appears Vodafone followed up its EyeNETRA home run with another multi-base hit. In the coming months we will see if OScan can live up to its predecessor in terms of executing clinically and demonstrating price points several orders of magnitude lower than the current prevailing rates.

“The Vodafone Americas Foundation partnership with the mHealth Alliance is exceptionally powerful in that it allows us to propel ideas for wireless technology into action,” said Patty Mechael, Executive Director of the mHealth Alliance. “The field of mHealth is constantly growing, and now more than ever it is essential for us to support innovations that will enable us to overcome development challenges and have a meaningful impact on people’s lives. This kind of competition inspires entrepreneurs and innovators to explore unchartered territory, enabling the realization of visionary ideas that improve communities throughout the world.”