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Spring Forward Event: Apple Announces Open-Source ‘ResearchKit’ for Medical Research

Apple’s now apparently confident enough about the Health capabilities of iOS 8 to pay it more than cursory attention, and as such, Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior vice president of operations, took the stage to talk about it for several minutes. Williams took the occasion to announce ResearchKit, which will allow Apple to actively help with medical research.

ResearchKit will kick off with five apps specifically targeted at diseases such as Parkinson’s. The apps are available today.

“Now anybody with an iPhone can contribute to Parkinson’s research,” Williams said.

The apps use the iPhone’s existing capabilities to help with the research. Say “ahhh” into the microphone, for instance, and the app will detect tremors in your voice. Walk around, and it’ll measure your gait. And if you’re interested in seeing how your progress is going rather than passively getting involved in the study, the apps produce graphs that show things like “tremor severity” and “activity level.”

Peripheral tools also come into play, though: for instance, researchers monitoring asthma will be able to use Bluetooth inhalers with the service.

Privacy is of course a concern, and Apple says that it won’t be looking at any of the related data (which is opt-in only)–only researchers will. The service will thus allow researchers to create their own opt-in research surveys, and to make matters easier, Apple says the software behind ResearchKit will be open source.

“This is exactly where medicine is going,” said one doctor in an followup video from Apple. “It has to.”

Cook took the stage to talk about the new MacBook afterward, but managed to say one more thing about ResearchKit: “This is going to change medical research in a way that’s truly profound and we’re proud to be a part of it.”

Follow this article’s writer, Leif Johnson, on Twitter.

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