MIT Builds An Open-Source Platform For Your Body

Linda Tischler | Fast Company | February 5, 2013

MIT Media Lab's 11-day health care hackathon pulled students and big companies together with a common goal: Healing a broken industry.

Siberian temperatures. Eleven grueling days, navigating rough terrain. Six teams, matched for talent, competing for glory at the end. The Iditarod? Nah, just the annual MIT Health and Wellness Hackathon. This isn’t your average social app-fest. The goal is to jump-start an open source platform where apps that track all different aspects of your bodily health can exchange information. It’s a Sisyphean task, since most digital health solutions today are trapped in silos, but the organizers believe they can change that by enfranchising big companies instead of trying to disrupt them.

“The tradition in health care technology is, ‘This is our device, we make our own software,’” says Dr. John Moore, who organized the hackathon. “The goal is to connect that bit of knowledge to the rest of your health experience. Just keeping track of your step count, for example, won’t let you change the rest of your life.” To unify the segmented market for health technology takes heavy lifting on the engineering side, since much of the progress made by private companies hasn’t been shared back to the community. Here, each team is required to use open source and open standard tools so that things work together seamlessly: specifically, the Lab's patient-centered CollaboRhythm platform and the Indivo X system for personalized health records.

“Working from a common platform takes an extra effort to build,” Moore says, “but it ensures that the prototype will be something that has legs.” With Boomers aging and a lack of innovation coming from industry, the upside for these projects could be huge--but undertaking them is intimidating. “We thought we’d have to reject people,” says Moore, “but instead we just scared them off.”...