Sept. 18, 2019

Citizen scientists with wearable tech needed for UCalgary project

Volunteers’ data to help Calgary become a ‘smarter’ city
Closeup of two people doing bicep curls.
If you use wearable technology the university may be interested in your results. Candace Ward

Citizen science is stepping its way into the digital age with a new collaboration between the  University of Calgary and City of Calgary, and they need many, many volunteers who use wearable technology.

“This technology can provide university researchers with an unprecedented opportunity to better understand what people are doing, how that relates to their health and well-being, and how they interact with their urban environment,” says the Faculty of Kinesiology’s Dr. Reed Ferber, PhD, also a professor in the Faculty of Nursing and the Cumming School of Medicine.

Wearable sensor technology, including, smartwatches and activity monitors, is one of the fastest growing technology fields in the world. To meet a growing demand for qualified professionals, the University of Calgary Faculty of Kinesiology launched Canada’s first wearables program in September 2018: Wearable Technology Research and Collaboration (We-TRAC) training program.

The City’s priorities and finance committee has recommended to council that The City contribute $57,500 of matching funding to the project. This would allow Ferber to build a web portal that will enable them to gather data from citizen volunteers, to learn more about how they are affected by and interact with their environment to help City policy-makers improve Calgarians’ lives.

A call for Calgary’s citizen scientists

“Our first We-TRAC project involved collecting data from Olympic, varsity and intramural athletes using wearable devices. Now we want Calgarians to participate so we can leverage wearable technology to help Calgary become a leading smart city,” says Ferber.

Possible research studies range from understanding heart rate and stress levels while cycling, walking or driving to work; to determining how the layout and connectivity of the street network is amenable to design by urban planners and developers; investigating sleep patterns and their effect on quality of life for clinical patients; collecting data on green space use to aid in promoting physical activity resulting in healthier communities; and monitoring running patterns while Calgarians run and train on our pathways and trails, . 

“Right now the most the most urgent need is to engage Calgarians as citizen scientists,” says Ferber.

Reed Ferber

Reed Ferber and other We-TRAC researchers hope to collect data from 10,000 volunteers.

Adrian Shellard, for the University of Calgary

Collaboration with The City of Calgary

Calgary is a global leader in wearable technologies. Calgary Economic Development has identified Health IT/Medical Devices as a subsector focus of its life sciences strategy because of the approximately 100 life science companies in the Calgary region more than 50 per cent of them are in health IT and the medical device space. Considering that more than 60 per cent of the university’s students stay and work in Calgary after graduating, this sector is a boon for local employment.

“The combination of the We-TRAC program and the proposed Citizen Scientist program further supports Calgary becoming a global leader in the wearable technology sector,” says Andrew Sedor, the business development co-ordinator in the City of Calgary's Department of Transportation. “This collaboration will help The City make better planning, engineering and infrastructure investment decisions. It will also contribute to economic development.”

The initial We-TRAC goal is to collect data from 10,000 volunteers who use wearable devices such as Garmin and Fitbit, while they go about their daily lives. Only the university has access to the raw data and it will be stored on a highly secure, level 3 server.

Ferber and the other We-TRAC researchers will use the City-hosted, aggregated anonymized data set on the open data portal for a variety of planning, research, and engineering purposes, and could potentially be hosted on Calgary’s Open Data Catalogue for all the public to see and use.

How to become a citizen scientist

The Citizen Scientist program will begin in March 2020. If you use a wearable device and you are interested in taking part, please sign up here and the research team will send you an email when the program begins next spring.

About We-TRAC

We-TRAC is developing the next generation of wearable tech experts and focusing on using wearable technology to revolutionize sport performance, health care and health research. The goal is to train upward of 80 master's and PhD students from multiple faculties over the next six years. Students receive training in the biomechanics of human motion, data science, data visualization, knowledge translation, and entrepreneurship.

The University of Calgary’s Faculty of Kinesiology is the No. 1 ranked sport science school in North America and No. 7 globally, according to the prestigious ShanghaiRanking (2018).

The University of Calgary’s multidisciplinary Engineering Solutions for Health: Biomedical Engineering research strategy drives innovations that are saving lives and revolutionizing health care for Canadians. With collaborative teams focused on human mobility, health monitoring, advanced biomedical imaging, precision biodiagnostics, regenerative medicine and novel medical technologies, our researchers are transforming quality of life and continuously improving the health system.