Google’s Study Kit App Could Open Up Health Data

Google has big plans for your body, and Study Kit—the name shared by a mysterious Android app and Chrome Extension—is proof.

The apps appear to be the next phase in Google’s Baseline Study initiative, a “moonshot” the company first acknowledged in 2014 via a report in the Wall Street Journal.

On Wednesday, TechCrunch reported on the newly available Study Kit browser extension. Both it and the Android app released in March suggest that Google is expanding the Baseline Study to more participants and making it easier for them to contribute data.

Intriguingly, these new bits of software could make their way into other devices that collect data about our bodies.

Establishing A Baseline

The Journal explained the impetus behind Google’s Baseline Study as an attempt to gather as much data as possible about what a healthy human body looks like.

The study began with 175 participants, with data collection (via blood, urine, saliva, and tear samples) and the usage of that data being overseen by Duke and Stanford’s medical schools. According to the initial study, those samples were collected by a clinical testing firm—the old-fashioned, expensive way to do it.

Here’s what you see if you install the Study Kit app and you’re not a registered participant.

Now, roughly a year later, Baseline Study seems to be moving into new territory that could involve some as-yet unrevealed gadgetry—perhaps devices that can analyze samples and send in data without needing to send it into a lab.

The description for the Study Kit app and extension seems to hint at the need for specific hardware related to the study:

This application is for use with the Google Study Kit to upload and view data from your Study Kit devices.

As to what constitutes a “Study Kit device,” those of us who aren’t participating are completely in the dark. A Google spokesperson offered a boilerplate statement regarding the app and extension:

We are in the early stages of designing the Baseline Study and are exploring ways to make it easy for participants to share their health information and habits with researchers on a routine basis. An app is one route we’re considering and some of our pilot participants are testing this early version.

Healthy Hardware

Google has revealed some ideas for health-tracking hardware. A glucose-monitoring “smart contact lens,” for example, promises to greatly simplify the analysis of blood-sugar levels.

Add to the mix an ever-growing line of Android Wear devices—many of which feature heart rate monitors and pedometers—and it’s possible that Google has been stealthily seeding “Study Kit devices” out among the populace for months.

Maybe your Android Wear device could link you into a larger Study Kit ecosystem down the road.

So “Study Kit devices” could well turn out to be a generic descriptor of devices with the right software to collect and send health-related data, like Apple’s HealthKit and ResearchKit.

Google’s Google Fit software lets software and hardware makers add fitness-tracking functions, though its rollout has been very slow, with many initially promised features yet to make an appearance.

There’s no reason why Study Kit couldn’t fill a comparable role for more in-depth biodata. The app could potentially make sense out of the data collected by the wearable devices of tomorrow—gadgets like hydration or sleep monitors that take passive readings of a human body.

If developers and makers continue to push the boundaries of how to collect information about our health, Google’s Study Kit—or some piece of software Google builds on top of it in the future—might prove the key to helping us understand our bodies and learn to live better.

Smart Contact Lens, Study Kit, and Android Wear images courtesy of Google

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