Apple launches ResearchKit – secure, private, open source medical research


Apple announced a new initiative at its Spring Forward event yesterday – ResearchKit.

What is ResearchKit? Apple’s SVP of Operations, Jeff Williams, described it as a framework for medical researchers to create and deploy mobile apps which collect and share medical data from phone users (with their permission), and share it with the researchers.

Why is this important? Previously it has proven difficult for research organisations to secure volunteers for research studies, and the data collected from such studies is often collected, at best, quarterly.

With this program, Apple hopes to help researchers more easily attract volunteers, and collect their information far more frequently (up to once a second), yielding far richer data.

The platform itself launches next month, but already there are 5 apps available, targeting Parkinson’s, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and breast cancer. These apps have been developed by medical research organisations, in conjunction with Apple.

The success of this approach can be seen already in this tweet:

I downloaded mPower, the app for Parkinson’s to try it out, but for now, they are only signing up people who are based in the US.

As well as capturing data for the researchers, mPower also presents valuable information to the user, tracking gait and tremor, and seeing if they improve over time, when combined with increased exercise. So the app is a win both for the research organisations, and for the users too.

Apple Does Not See Your Data

Apple went to great pains to stress that the user is in complete control over who gets to see the data. And Apple themselves doesn’t ever get to see your data.

This is obviously a direct shot at Google, and its advertising platform’s need to see your data. Expect to hear this mantra repeated more and more by Apple in future launches.

This focus on privacy, along with Apple’s aggressive stance on fixing security holes, and defaulting to encryption on its devices, is becoming a clear differentiator between Apple and Android (and let’s face it, in mobile, this is a two horse race, for now).

ResearchKit Open Source

Finally, Williams concluded the launch by saying Apple wants ResearchKit on as many devices as possible. Consequently, Apple are going to make ResearchKit open source. It remains to see which open source license they will opt for.

But, open sourcing ResearckKit is a very important step, as it lends transparency to the privacy and security which Apple say is built-in, as well as validating Apple’s claim that they don’t see your data.

And it also opens ResearchKit up to other mobile platforms to use (Android, Windows, Blackberry), vastly increasing the potential pool of participants for medical research.

We have documented here on GreenMonk numerous times how Big Data, and analysis tools are revolutionising health care.

Now we are seeing mobile getting in on the action too. And how.


Technology for Good – episode thirty six with Esteban Kolsky

Welcome to episode thirty six of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s show our guest is independent analyst Enterprise Irregulars, but this was the first time Esteban and I had had a face-to-face conversation (or screen-to-screen, more accurately!).

The change of clocks in Europe the weekend before the show almost derailed us, and there was a mix-up (my fault) whereby Esteban didn’t get to join the show until twenty minutes in, but still, it was a great show and we had some awesome discussions.

Some of the more fascinating stories we looked at on the show, included some major moves on the energy storage front, big announcements from Google and Microsoft on the health/fitness front, and the new partnership between Twitter and IBM.

Here is the full list of stories that we covered in this week’s show:












Technology for Good – episode twenty six with Open Data Institute’s James Smith

Welcome to episode twenty six of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s episode we had The Open Data Institute‘s James Smith as the guest on our show.

I was very keen to have James on the show, especially since he recently announced that he is standing for election to the UK parliament next year. James is running on the principles in the OpenPolitics Manifesto, an open source plan for the UK that anyone can contribute to. This is obviously a an extremely innovative approach to electioneering, as well as being uniquely democratic. Believing as I do in the Geek Manifesto, I think it is vital we elect scientifically literate people to the world’s parliaments, so I definitely wanted James to come onto the show. And if he’s willing, I’ll ask him on again sooner to election time.

We covered a lot of topics in the show, including the US public being in favour of a carbon tax, the new Airbus electric plane, and Google’s new moonshot project, the human body.

Here is the full list of stories that we covered in this week’s show:



Internet of Things







Ubiquitous computing, the Internet of Things, and the discovery of sound

Sounds of East Lansing photo

I had a really interesting, wide-ranging, conversation with SalesForce’s VP for Strategic Research, Peter Coffee the other day.

A lot of our conversation revolved around how recent changes in the Internet of Things space, in ubiquitous computing, and in Big Data and analytics area are enabling profound effects on how we interact with the world.

Peter had a superb analogy – that of sound travelling through air. When sound is generated, it is transmitted from the source to the surrounding air particles, which vibrate or collide and pass the sound energy along to our ears. Without any air particles to vibrate, we wouldn’t hear the sound (hence there is no sound in space).

As you enter our planet’s atmosphere from space you start to encounter molecules of air. The more molecules there are, the better they can interact and the more likely they are to transmit sound.

If you hadn’t experienced air before, you might not be aware of the existence of sound. It is unlikely you would even predict that there would be such a thing as sound.

In a similar way, in the late eighties, when very few people had mobile phones, it would have been nigh on impossible to predict the emergence of the mobile computing platforms we’re seeing now, and the advances they’ve brought to things like health, education and access to markets (and cat videos!).

And, we are just at the beginning of another period when massive change will be enabled. This time by pervasive connectivity. And not just the universal connectivity of people which mobile phones has enabled, but the connectivity of literally everything that is being created by low cost sensors and the Internet of Things.

We are already seeing massive data streams now coming from expensive pieces of equipment such as commercial jets, trains, and even wind turbines.

But with the drastic fall in the price of the technologies, devices such as cars, light bulbs, even toothbrushes that were never previously, are now being instrumented and connected to the Internet.

This proliferation of (typically cloud) connected devices will allow for massive shifts in our ability to generate, analyse, and act on, data sets that we just didn’t have before now.

When we look at the concept of the connected home, for example. Back in 2009 when we in GreenMonk were espousing the Electricity 2.0 vision, many of the technologies to make it happen, hadn’t even been invented. Now, however, not only are our devices at home increasingly becoming connected, but technology providers like Apple, Google, and Samsung are creating platforms to allow us better manage all our connected devices. The GreenMonk Electricity 2.0 vision is now a lot closer to becoming reality.

We are also starting to see the beginnings of what will be seismic upheavals in the areas of health, education, and transportation.

No-one knows for sure what the next few years will bring, but it is sure going to be an exciting ride as we metaphorically discover sound, again and again, and again.

Photo credit Matt Katzenberger


Technology for Good – episode twenty with Sam Johnston

Welcome to episode twenty of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s episode we had Sam Johnston Director, Cloud & IT Services at Equinix, as a guest on the show. Sam is an old friend, so we had a lot of fun discussing this week’s crop of stories. This week was relatively quiet on the technology front – whether that’s a hangover from last week’s Sapphirenow and Apple WWDC, or the World Cup, I’m not sure, but still we found plenty to talk about; especially on the health, IoT and wearables fronts.

Here are the stories that we discussed in this week’s show:







Internet of Things (IoT)





Technology in healthcare, a post-Sapphirenow update

As noted here recently, technology is completely revolutionising the healthcare industry.

And that was brought home to us forcefully when we attended SAP’s 2014 Sapphirenow conference last week. I had fifteen meetings scheduled at the event, and while there wasn’t much mention of healthcare during the keynotes, seven of my fifteen meetings were healthcare related. In previous Sapphirenow conferences, there might have been one.

The meetings were with a range of organisations. Some were larger organisations like MKI, Stanford University (specifically their Center for Computational, Evolutionary and Human Genomics (CEHG)), and unsurprisingly SAP. MKI talked about their use of HANA, R, and Hadoop for genomic analysis. Stanford’s Carlos Bustamante talked about the research being done by the CEHG, in conjunction with SAP, on understanding different genomes and their health-related phenotypic consequences, while SAP discussed their Care Circles initiative, as well as their Genome Sciences projects.

One interesting data point that emerged from Prof Bustamante was that one dataset of 2534 individual genomes contained in excess of 20 billion records and it consumed 1.2 terabytes of RAM. This is big data. Especially when you consider you are interrogating it against matrices of other data points (such as age, nationality, gender, etc.).

CoreyMobile screen

Three of the companies I met were part of the SAP Startup Focus program. This is a program aimed at start-up companies with offerings in the big data, realtime or predictive analytics spaces. The program helps them develop their product on SAP’s in-memory HANA database platform, and also helps them with go to market strategies.

The three healthcare startups were Convergence CT, Phemi, and Core Mobile. ConvergenceCT makes software for hospitals which can take in data from multiple data sources (EMR systems, labs, radiology, etc.) and produce insights via predictive analytics, and reporting dashboards. Phemi, similarly takes in healthcare info from the various disparate hospital data sources, and then has a number of apps sitting on top of the data delivering results and outcomes. While Core Mobile has mobile apps for doctors, patients, and carers to help optimise care processes, and share patient information with authorised recipients.

So lots of interesting things happening in this sector right now and much of the innovation is down to SAP’s decisions to 1) turn it’s HANA database into a platform, and 2) to initiate the Startup Focus program. Now that IBM is going the platform route with it’s Watson cognitive computing engine, we’re likely to see a lot of healthcare innovation emerging there too.


Technology for Good – episode eighteen with Chris Adams

Welcome to episode eighteen of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s episode we had Loco2 product and UX manager Chris Adams as a guest on the show. Chris is an old friend, and semi-regular co-host, so we had a lot of fun discussing this week’s crop of stories. Though I tried to whittle them down to a manageable number we still had quite a things to talk about, particularly in the energy, transport, and health spaces.

Here are the stories that we discussed in this week’s show:










Technology is completely revolutionising the healthcare industry

Healthcare is changing. Recent advances in technology are completely revolutionising how we approach the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of illness. And this is just the beginning of what will be a technological revolution in healthcare.

Smartphone use is growing at an enormous pace. They now account for 87% of the total mobile handsets in the US, for example. And with the smartphones has come hundreds of new apps related to health and fitness. These apps do everything from monitoring sleep and movement (steps), to keeping track of glucose levels, blood oxygen, and even ovulation.

Fitbit Dashboard

The relentless rise of wearable connected devices is also having a big effect on people tacking their health and fitness. These small devices (such as the Fitbit Force, the Jawbone Up, and the Withings Pulse) are light and easy to wear, and they communicate with apps on the smartphone to monitor and record health-related information.

The next evolution of wearables, where they are built-in to the clothes you wear, has already begun. If these devices become as ubiquitous as smartphones, they will help us make far better informed decisions about our health and fitness.

Then you have major players like Apple going on a hiring spree of medical technology executives to bolster its coming Healthbook application, as well as its rumoured iWatch wearable device. Samsung too have wearable fitness trackers and announced their own Healthcare platform “to track your every move” today.

Going further back the stack, and we see IBM using its artificial intelligence play Watson to make inroads into the health industry (see video above). IBM has been partnering with WellPoint Inc. and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to help clinicians better diagnose instances of cancer in patients.

And more recently IBM has announced that it is working with New York Genome Center to create a prototype that could suggest personalised treatment options for patients with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. From the announcement:

By analyzing gene sequence variations between normal and cancerous biopsies of brain tumors, Watson will then be used to review medical literature and clinical records to help clinicians consider a variety treatments options tailored to an individual’s specific type and personalized instance of the cancer.

And IBM aren’t stopping there. They announced last month that they were opening up Watson as a platform so developers can create apps that can utilise Watson’s cognitive computing engine to solve all kinds of difficult problems. And earlier this month IBM announced that several “powered by Watson” apps have been developed, including one to help dermatologists better diagnose skin cancer.

And IBM also announced the acquisition of Cognea. Cognea offers virtual assistants that relate to people using a wide variety of personalities—from suit-and-tie formal to kid-next-door friendly – think Siri, or better yet Cortana for Watson!

Then, newer in-memory database technologies such as SAP’s HANA, are being used to crunch through datasets so large they were previously to big to query. For example, SAP announced today a partnership with the Stanford School of Medicine to “achieve a better understanding of global human genome variation and its implications in disease, particularly cardiovascular disease”. From the release SAP goes on to say:

Researchers have already leveraged SAP HANA to corroborate the results of a study that discovered that the genetic risk of Type II Diabetes varies between populations. The study looked at 12 genetic variants previously associated with Type II Diabetes across 49 individuals. With SAP HANA, researchers in Dr. Butte’s lab were able to simultaneously query all 125 genetic variants previously associated with Type II Diabetes across 629 individuals. Using traditional methods, this analysis on this amount of data would have taken an unreasonable amount of time.

So, the changes which technology are bringing to the healthcare industry now are nothing short of revolutionary. And with the likes of SAP’s HANA, and IBM’s Watson, set up as platforms for 3rd party developers, the stage is set for far more innovation in the coming months and years. Exciting times for healthcare practitioners, patients and patients to-be.


Technology for Good – episode nine

Welcome to episode nine of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s show we had special guest John Clark, Worldwide Manager of Smart Buildings for IBM. Given the week that was in it with Google’s announcement of Android Wear, and Twitter’s eighth birthday, there were plenty of stories about social networks, and wearable devices.

Here’s the stories that we discussed in the show:




Open Source


Internet of Things



Technology for Good – Episode five

This is episode five of our weekly GreenMonk TV Technology for Good Hangout – a show where we discuss news of technology solutions that work to benefit people’s lives. This week we discussed stories to do with Climate, energy/utilities, transportation, health, the internet of Things, and Data Centre’s amongst others.

Here’s a list of links to the stories we discussed today:

Climate news


Transportation/Electric Vehicles


Internet of Things

Data Centre’s