New software to help with Parkinson's study

A young Michael J. Fox at the Emmy Awards in 1988 before his Parkinson's disease diagnosis.

A research project into Parkinson's disease is gathering data from sufferers by way of smart wristbands able to detect hand tremors or changes in a patient's gait.

The wristbands are linked via Bluetooth to smartphones, and then sent over the mobile phone data network to the cloud for analysis.

Researchers from the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research and Intel have the daunting task of analysing the data gathered in the study, which has the potential to reach 365 terabytes a year. (Actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's disease, established the foundation in 2000.)

Another challenge for the Parkinson's researchers is the need to respond to the data as it comes in – a task beyond the capacity of traditional data analytics software.

Patients in the study have been given a diary app, and asked to record how they feel when they take medication. As well as providing research material, the aim is to allow doctors to monitor and advise them in real time.

This level of response is possible because of new software technology called Lambda. Traditionally, a software designer knows what amount of storage of computing power an application needs in advance. With Lambda, a programmer allows the cloud to decide.

The technology has been devised by Amazon Web Services. Lambda allows programmers to concentrate on their ideas - in this case how to help Parkinson's patients - says AWS chief technology officer Werner Vogels.

Netflix is also using Lambda to encode movie files and manage its network.

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