Posted by:Shyam Deval July 1st, 2015

In my blogs over last few weeks,I took a high level look at what is included under the hood in newly introduced Apple ResearchKit.I also touched upon functional details on two of the three out of box modules provided in the ResearchKit software framework – Surveys and Informed Consent.Today we will look in depth at the third module – Active Tasks.As I did for the two modules before, I will touch upon the functional feature set of the ‘Active Tasks’ module rather than many technical details.You can get into more implementation level details here.

In many of the medical research studies, measuring participant actions captures at least part of the study data.This is particularly true of research that involves measuring things such as fitness and cognition levels of the research subjects.In these cases either the participant has to go to a physical location where someone will capture the data or the study asks the subject to perform the actions and catalog the data.In the former case,logistics becomes an issue many times for the participants thus resulting in lower participation in the study.In the latter case,the reliability of data can often become questionable due to dependence on the participants to perform the actions and capture the data.

With the advancement in mobile device features and ability of the device OS to capture the data generated by many actions users can perform using those features has allowed consumer mobile apps to provide some really cool features.One can see examples of these in a lot of popular apps.ResearchKit leverages these features in the ‘Active Tasks’ module by exposing data captured by iPhone sensors when users perform activities in partially controlled conditions.This at least to some extend reduces the need for the study participants to visit researchers physically thus hopefully encouraging greater participation.

The ResearchKit framework currently includes five predefined tasks as outlined below.

  • Fitness – The Fitness task usually involves the participant doing a physical activity such as walking for a period of time with the iPhone.As the user is walking, the sensor data such as accelerometer, device motion, location etc. is collected and made available to the mobile app.One thing to know is that the ResearchKit framework does not apply any analysis to the collected data before making it available to the apps

  • Audio – In this task the user is asked to make a sustained sound for a period of time.ResearchKit uses AVFoundation framework to collect the data from the audio recording. Again ResearchKit framework doesn’t analyze this data but does allow for the app developer to define analysis on the task based on the requirements of the research.

  • Gait and Balance – Like the fitness task, Gait and Balance task collects measurements as the phone user does a physical activity such as walking, but the focus is not on deciphering the fitness level of the user but measuring things such as gait and balance.These measurements allow the app to estimate things such as how smooth the users walk is, what is the stride length of the user and if the user sways when walking.

  • Tapping speed – This involves a fairly straight-forward activity of the user tapping between two targets on the touch screen to assess motor capabilities such as speed, accuracy and rhythm.

  • Spatial Memory – This to me is the most fascinating of the five tasks as the user is asked to perform activities in a game-like environment.This typically involves user observing and then recalling pattern sequences with differing level of difficulty based on success or failure of the task by the user.This task allows the researchers to assess the executive function and visuospatial memory of the participant.

In my 4 blogs on Research Framework,I covered the business case for it as well as touched upon functional aspects of the 3 modules includes right now in it.We here at BTC are starting to work on some demo apps using ResearchKit and also getting interest from some research organizations on using it in their research.We are excited to see how this framework develops in future.

Is your company building apps using ResearchKit?If yes,I would love to hear about your experience.

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