Apple launches ResearchKit to bring your data to medical research

We’re finally getting to some of the promise of connected health with the launch of ResearchKit, a framework announced at the Apple event Monday that allows medical researchers to take advantage of the data gathered by the iPhone to help advance their own diagnostics or studies of disease.

ResearchKit, like HomeKit or HealthKit, is simply a way for researchers to build applications and get data out of the iPhone that might be useful for their own purposes, but it represents a huge opportunity to make it easy to recruit people to participate in giving doctors insights about their ongoing health conditions on a regular basis, as opposed to during monthly office visits.

It also offers a chance to give patients objective tests for diseases such as Parkinson’s as opposed to subjective evaluations based on a doctor’s opinion of how a patient is able to walk. Now, for example, they could speak into their iPhone on a ResearchKit app and give objective data, or take a dexterity test based on tapping. Both were examples given by Jeff Williams, during the presentation as he showed of the first five apps built using ResearchKit that are available today.

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The five apps were focused on five diseases including Parkinson’s, asthma, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In the case of asthma, the phone would be used in conjunction with environmental tests and connected inhalers, so the GPS coordinates of the places where a person used their inhaler could be linked to the environmental tests. It’s reminiscent of what Asthmapolis does, only with an iPhone and a university.

And that’s what’s important here. I’ve seen a lot of specialized sensor efforts to gather data from patient populations, and specialized efforts to reach out to doctors and hospitals, but if ResearchKit has one thing going for it, it’s that many patients and doctors already use the primary tool they’ll need already — their iPhone. I may not like the platform because it locks people into using an iPhone to collect that data, but one of the biggest hurdles to patient’s adopting new medical technology is that it’s hard to use.

Either the patients or the doctors don’t want to learn how to use it. Downloading an app is much easier than learning how to connect a new device to your Wi-Fi network or toting around a new device. So this approach has a lot of promise. Plus, Williams stressed two really important things at the event. The first was that Apple will not see any of the user data and the second is that Apple will open source ResearchKit, making it available to all platforms.

Thus, what you have here is the beginning of what could become a widely adopted way for people to volunteer their medical data for science or to their doctor in a way that is private and could reach beyond the Apple ecosystem. If that is what comes to pass, ResearchKit might be the biggest thing Apple launches today, even counting a watch. Apple will release ResearchKit next month.

Raspberry Pi gets 6x the power, 2x the memory and still costs $35

Makers, academics and generally anyone who likes to play with computers: get ready for some awesomesauce. Raspberry Pis, the tiny Linux computers that currently sell for $35 are getting a makeover that will give a tremendous boost to their compute power and double their memory while still keeping their price the same.

The Pi 2 boards will be available today, and Pi creator and CEO of Raspberry Pi (Trading) Ltd. Eben Upton says the organization has already built 100,000 units, so buyers shouldn’t have to wait like they did at the original Pi launch. The Pi 2 will have the following specs:

  • SoC : Broadcom BCM2836 (CPU, GPU, DSP, SDRAM, and single USB port)
  • CPU: 900 MHz quad-core ARM Cortex A7 (ARMv7 instruction set)
  • GPU: Broadcom VideoCore IV @ 250 MHz, OpenGL ES 2.0 (24 GFLOPS), 1080p30 MPEG-2 and VC-1 decoder (with license), 1080p30 h.264/MPEG-4 AVC high-profile decoder and encoder
  • Memory: 1 GB (shared with GPU)
  • Total backwards compatibility (in terms of multimedia, form-factor and interfacing) with Pi 1

This is a significant expansion of the Pi’s capabilities, although I’ve stopped being surprised at how far hobbyists have taken the original platform. In a blog post for Broadcom, Upton wrote:

[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]Raspberry Pi 2 has enough raw computing power to do anything that a PC can — surf the Web, word processing, spreadsheet algorithms and more; we expect to see a lot of you using it as a general-purpose productivity machine. We’re really pleased with it — and we think that our community of fans, developers, educators and industrial customers will agree.

When I emailed Upton to ask how he managed to keep the price so low while adding so much to the performance he said that shaving off a few cents on other components paid off. “We were able to hold the? price by paying a lot of attention to the little things (the price of an HDMI connector, the exact finish on the PCB),” he wrote. “We ended up finding a few tens of things each of which saved $0.10, and then spending all those savings in one go on more RAM and CPU performance.”

The Pi 2 uses a Broadcom chip, much like the original Pi did. The new Broadcom SoC is called the BCM2836 and it has the same VideoCore multimedia with a lot more CPU power.

And for those in the U.S. hoping to see more Pi action in their kids’ schools, Upton also told me that the Foundation has hired its first U.S. employee and is hoping to do a lot more with the U.S. education system in 2015. That’s great news, because Upton actually created the Pi with kids in mind. His goal was to get them excited about hardware, coding and computers the way he was inspired back in the day by the Commadore 64 platform. You can check out his commentary on this and more form his appearance at one of our conferences in 2013. It’s an excellent talk.


Flash storage deals continue, as Western Digital buys Skyera

You can add another member to your list of storage startups being swallowed up by storage giants like Sandisk and EMC. This week, flash-storage startup Skyera was bought out by HGST, a subsidiary of Western Digital, for an undisclosed amount.

Gigaom’s Barb Darrow profiled Skyera in 2012 and noted that at the time the flash-storage space was ripe with a bevy of startups–including, Virident and Violin Memory–leading the way in bringing flash storage to the mainstream.

As solid-state technology got more popular with data center operators over the years, the big storage titans came knocking on the startups’ doors to bolster their portfolios with the startups’ flash expertise.

Just a few examples: has since been gobbled up by [company]SanDisk[/company] for $1.1 billion, [company]Western Digital[/company] bought Virident for $685 million and EMC acquired XtremIO for $430 million.

As for Violin Memory, that startup has been trying to maintain face after a shaky IPO and has since been working on a rebound.

It will be worth keeping an eye on other flash startups like Pure Storage and SolidFire as to what their strategies will be in the coming year and if they will eventually end up in the hands of bigger storage players. SolidFire landed an $82 million funding round in October and Pure Storage CEO Scott Dietzen recently told the Silicon Valley Business Journal that Pure Storage is not looking to be acquired or is seeking an IPO any time soon.

Rackspace joins the OpenPower Foundation

Rackspace is now an official member of the OpenPower Foundation, the IBM-created organization whose job is to help oversee IBM’s open-source chips; these chips are posed to give Intel’s x86 chips a run for their money. The cloud provider said in a blog post Tuesday that it will be working with partners to “to design and build an OpenPOWER-based, Open Compute platform” that it eventually aims to put into production. Rackspace now joins Google, Canonical, Nvidia and Samsung as another OpenPower member. In early October, IBM announced a new OpenPower-certified server for webscale-centric companies that comes with an IBM Power8 processor and Nvidia’s GPU accelerator.

Macworld | iWorld 2012 highlights for general Apple users

We’ve already talked about some key highlights from the Macworld | iWorld 2012 show, particularly from the prosumer and developer angles. But my focus here is on those products average Apple users might be interested in, for both Mac and iOS devices.