Apple snaps up robot expert, Google X co-founder Yoky Matsuoka

4 May 2016

Yoky Matsuoka has moved to Apple, via Wikimedia Commons

Apple has added a major brain to its tech armoury, hiring Yoky Matsuoka, one of the co-founders of Google’s X lab and former head of technology at Nest.

Apple’s drive to improve health-monitoring wearables and software is continuing apace, with the recruitment of Yoky Matsuoka a major feather in the tech giant’s cap.

A former professor of robotics at the University of Washington, Matsuoka went on to win a 2007 MacArthur Foundation grant for her neurorobotics work looking at aiding stroke sufferers in regaining certain movement.

She then helped start the Google X lab, moving on to Nest soon after. In 2015, she left Nest to take up a role as VP at Twitter, however, illness forced her to shelve those plans.

Now at Apple, Fortune explains that she will be working under company COO Jeff Williams, the driver behind projects like HealthKit, ResearchKit and CareKit.

Launched last March, ResearchKit’s opening projects began remarkably successfully: 11,000 people signed up for a heart study, 2,500 for asthma and 5,500 for Parkinson’s. Traditionally, they would take years to recruit.

“The response to ResearchKit has been fantastic,” said Williams recently. “Virtually overnight, many ResearchKit studies became the largest in history, and researchers are gaining insights and making discoveries that weren’t possible before.

“Medical researchers around the world continue to use iPhone to transform what we know about complex diseases, and with continued support from the open source community, the opportunities for iPhone in medical research are endless.”

Last month, the company updated ResearchKit, while also launching a new CareKit health framework for patients – this makes it easier for individuals to better understand their own health by keeping track of care plans and monitoring symptoms and medication.

The new framework also makes it easier to share information with doctors, nurses or family members. It includes a symptom and measurement tracker that uses the iPhone’s accelerometer and gyroscope, as well as an insight dashboard to map symptoms against actions in the Care Card to measure if treatments are working.

Given Matsuoka’s past, it would be surprising if her expertise is merely used to finesse these projects, though.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic