An Apple a day keeps the doctor away: ResearchKit launched

10 Mar 2015

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Apple’s new ResearchKit platform is set to offer whole new avenue for innovation in medical research at the tap of a finger.

Harnessing the abundance of smart technology in today’s world is something not many companies can’t quite do, but it’s fair to say Apple is in as good a position as anyone to accomplish something.

The announcement of ResearchKit at yesterday’s Apple event now sees the Cupertino, California, giant getting in on medical research in an open-source way, with significance put on user privacy.

An iOS software framework, ResearchKit will essentially let users opt in to joining medical research studies via dedicated apps. For example, one of the services spoken of was a test for Parkinson’s disease, which asks users to tap a screen in rhythm for 30 seconds, gathering the results to ultimately compile a macro-study.

Interestingly, Apple wants nothing to do with the findings, the studies or the users’ decision to join, merely offering a platform for developers to get in on and further their research.

“You choose what studies you want to join, you are in control of what information you provide to which apps, and you can see the data you’re sharing,” says the company.

ResearchKit

Consent is required before any users get involved, with the capability to obtain data throughout the day if you do so wish. An ‘Asthma Health’ app has already been developed. Images via Apple

"iOS apps already help millions of customers track and improve their health," said Jeff Williams, Apple's senior vice-president of operations.

"With hundreds of millions of iPhones in use around the world, we saw an opportunity for Apple to have an even greater impact by empowering people to participate in and contribute to medical research.

"ResearchKit gives the scientific community access to a diverse, global population and more ways to collect data than ever before."

This abundance of access to macro studies, if done right, caught Apple’s eye, with ResearchKit allowing researchers to create apps “that take advantage of iPhone features to gather new types of data on a scale never available before”. Considering the sensor, GPS and data capabilities of iPhones, it is quite remarkable just how far this project could go.

Five tests are going live now, letting people take part in tests for Parkinson’s, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and breast cancer.

Of course this isn’t the only platform Apple has opened up to targeted developers. HomeKit is an open source plan to allow internet of things developers to improve the compatibility of devices in a regular home, although that’s not fully up and running just yet.

Healthy apple image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt is senior communications and context executive at NDRC. He previously worked as a journalist with Silicon Republic.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com