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Apple’s ResearchKit Now Tackling Autism

Apple's ResearchKit Now Tackling Autism
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In today’s world, technology has been a boon for medical science. There are so many more medical issues that can be caught and treated thanks to machines and computers. Now the iPhone can be added to that list, thanks to Apple’s HealthKit and ResearchKit programs. Recently, there has been one particular app that is gaining some much-needed attention.


Vox reports a team of doctors, researchers, and programmers from Duke University have created an app called Autism & Beyond. Helen Egger, the head of child psychology and Guillermo Sapiro, an engineering professor from Duke are major influences of the team. The app is made possible by Apple’s ResearchKit platform, which is software that helps medical researchers and developers design their own applications for iOS that help medical studies.

ResearchKit allows researchers to collect important health data from iPhone users, especially undergraduate students. Undergrads are a common demographic in University studies and tapping into research data from them with the help of their iPhone, makes data easily attainable and only helps facilitate a lengthy data collection process.

Apps that use ResearchKit can now make it easier to conduct medical research without visiting a hospital or a lab. What sounds so amazing about Autism & Beyond is that the app can use the built-in camera of an iPhone or iPad to scan facial expressions, analyze micro-reactions, and then indicate if a person has a potential risk of autism.


The app is designed for parents to use with their kids. It can be used to build a video library of a child’s reactions, which doctors hope will help them prioritize the highest risk children which then can be brought in for diagnosis. Parents have the option of recording only patterns of dots that track facial features, if they have privacy concerns.

The data collected will hopefully lead to new insights and patterns about autistic children’s behavior. According to Vox, researchers say the data is promising and they are planning to present a study at a conference this week on the “technical feasibility of using an app to measure autism risk behaviors”.

On Wednesdays, a team examines the software to make sure it flags the same behaviors that human observers would. It all sounds promising. Perhaps there will be more medical uses for this technology. Vox suggests that Apple’s support for Autism & Beyond is significant, specifically since this isn’t likely going to lead to huge profits for Apple, which seems to be trying to position itself as a player in the healthcare system.

Autism & Beyond may be expanded to outside the United States, which seems like an ambitious goal. Imagine the benefits of apps that allow researchers to obtain data from around the world. It could be anonymous, which helps prevent ethical issues, and it could give researchers better sample sizes and data that is more representative and more diverse.

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