Microsoft looks at health potential of Xbox, apps

Software giant is researching how gadgets like the Xbox and technologies like accelerometers in cell phones could improve personal health, and health care in general.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read

Microsoft hopes to vamp up its HealthVault and other health services by making it easier for users to do everything from track their caloric intake to count their steps using their cell phones, according to researchers at a Microsoft forum on health care technology in Beijing.

Desney Tan of Microsoft Research Microsoft

Microsoft researchers are also busy investigating the potential of Xbox 360 units--which are cheaper than similar hospital equipment yet often just as powerful--to feed and filter information from electronic medical records onto in-room display screens for patients and caregivers, according to Desney Tan, a senior researcher at Microsoft Research, who spoke during the forum.

Xbox units could also be used to let patients play games or go online, possibly by body gestures enabled by Microsoft's upcoming Project Natal control system.

Microsoft Research is also developing applications that can plug into services such as HealthVault to make it easier for users to access their health records. One such project, MyLife for Windows Mobile phones, is using built-in devices such as cameras, accelerometers, and microphones in the hopes of enabling users to log various health readings, from blood pressure to body weight, and monitor activities from exercising to eating.

Eric Chang, director of technology strategy at Microsoft Research Asia, said he dreams that eventually users can retrieve food data--caloric content, food groups represented, potential allergy risks--based on a photograph alone. A first step might be scanning tags attached to various meals.

Scanning tags of food that was grown in one's garden, bought at farmers markets, or purchased in a grocery store's bulk aisle would likely be the most difficult. But if you've got no choice but McDonald's, an app like this could at least help you monitor your own downward spiral.

Christine Chang, an analyst at Ovum, said Microsoft is just one of several companies building mobile health tools, and that it may have to work alongside one of its biggest rivals, Google Health, to make the still niche--and more costly--smartphone market viable.