Apple Announces ResearchKit, Which Uses IPhones To Gather Enormous Data Sets For Scientists

Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, asthma—ResearchKit makes it possible for large-scale data collection from anyone with an iPhone.

Apple Announces ResearchKit, Which Uses IPhones To Gather Enormous Data Sets For Scientists
[Photo: courtesy of Apple]

At today’s Apple event, Apple senior vice president of operations Jeff Williams took the stage to announce ResearchKit, a framework made specifically for medical research. Basically, it transforms the iPhone, Apple Watch, and HealthKit into an opt-in tool for research institutions. It has the potential to change the world.

Apple senior vice president of operations Jeff Williams onstage during the March 9, 2015 eventPhoto: Harry McCracken for Fast Company

Apple says it worked with Mount Sinai, Stanford Medical, the University of Oxford, Penn Medicine, and other institutions to build health-monitoring applications for ResearchKit, which will be open source. For example, one of the early apps developed with the framework is called mPower. It uses tapping—like, you jab at a button on the screen multiple times—to subtly detect the presence of hand tremors, a telltale sign of Parkinson’s disease. Another example: the phone can conduct gait and balance tests if you put your iPhone in your pocket before you go for a walk. Not only can it help doctors diagnose patients and track their activity, but it provides the infrastructure that allows researchers to siphon up untold amounts of health data.

“Numbers are everything,” Dr. Eduardo Sanchez of the American Heart Association says on Apple.com. “The more people who contribute their data, the bigger the numbers, the truer the representation of a population, and the more powerful the results. A research platform that allows large amounts of data to be collected and shared—that can only be a positive thing for medical research.”

ResearchKit will be available to the public next month. The first five apps—which help fight asthma, Parkinson’s, diabetes, breast cancer, and cardiovascular disease—are available for developers starting today.

inside the Parkinson’s Disease ResearchKit are some of doctor’s tools available on your iPhone.

About the author

Chris is a staff writer at Fast Company, where he covers business and tech. He has also written for The Week, TIME, Men's Journal, The Atlantic, and more.

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