Apple Turns to Academia, Healthcare Companies to Detect Depression and More from Wearables Data

Report in the Wall Street Journal outs ongoing projects designed to detect and diagnose a range of conditions — including childhood autism.

Consumer electronics giant Apple is reportedly in partnership with healthcare companies and universities to expand its use of wearable and smartphone sensor data, looking into ways it could detect everything from depression to cognitive decline.

While best known for either its Mac range of PCs or iPhone smartphone family, Apple's reaches are broad: The company also offers the Apple Watch, a wearable with health-monitoring capabilities, alongside its HomeKit home automation platform and Siri voice assistant system.

The latest Apple Watch models include blood-oxygen monitoring, heart-rate monitoring, and fall detection — and have already proven their worth in the medical field, having been used in a study on how data from wearables can inform and improve the monitoring and treatment of those with Parkinson's.

Now, Apple is looking to extend its healthcare efforts. A report in the Wall Street Journal citing "people familiar with the matter" claims the company is working with the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), Duke University, and health technology firm Biogen to use its existing capabilities more broadly.

The paper claims that the company is looking to develop algorithms capable of detecting depression and cognitive decline from data including heart rate, activity, and sleep patterns — all captured from its wearable platform. Another project involves using the cameras in an iPhone to diagnose childhood autism by tracking focus and movement.

Apple, for its part, has yet to confirm the paper's claims. In its latest mobile operating system release, iOS 15, it added a new Walking Steadiness metric to Apple Health — but stopped short of announcing commercialization of any of the above research efforts.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire:
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