The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced a new program that seeks to use passively collected data from mobile devices to monitor the health of soldiers.
Mobile devices like smartphones are pretty versatile platforms for collecting health data. Some of the more intuitive applications of this platform focus on managing chronic diseases using, say, diabetes apps.
In this new proposal, DARPA is doing something a bit different. They want to be able to monitor the health of soldiers, predicting illnesses and other issues that may affect combat readiness. And they are doing this by using sensors on mobile phones that will passively collect this information.
DARPA’s Warfighter Analytics using Smartphones for Health (WASH) seeks to use only data that is being passively captured through mobile devices to reach that end goal. Unlike other healthy population studies like Health eHeart or MyHeart Counts, they are specifically excluding data collected through peripherals like smartphone-connected blood pressure monitors. The general idea here is to find a way to use data that’s already available without asking soldiers to do anything more.
The kind of data that could be integrated is pretty variable. It could include more obvious data like activity trackers embedded in smartphones. But there are also data points that may not be as obvious to healthcare professionals, like the way users navigate the touchscreen or features in their voices. User authentication using keystroke dynamics (i.e. the way you type) has gotten some traction. And if that kind of data can be used to generate such a specific individual signature, it’s not hard to make the leap then that perhaps deviations from such a signature may reflect some change in the individual.
While this work is focused on soldiers, it’s certainly likely to be translatable to the general population. Currently, the program is in relatively early stages with solicitations of proposals for funding but with DARPA’s deep pockets, this work will probably move a little faster than what many healthcare professionals are used to seeing.