Health IT, Startups

New Fitabase R&D chief wants to make wearables data more ‘actionable’

Ernesto Ramirez, the new head of research and development at Fitabase, said that the wearable fitness gadgets are only now starting to realize their potential.

Ernesto Ramirez

Ernesto Ramirez

The first Fitbit hit the market in late 2009. While that may seem like a lifetime ago in the tech world, the new head of research and development at Fitabase believes that the wearable fitness gadgets are only now starting to realize their potential.

“I feel like we’re just scratching the surface,” said Ernesto Ramirez, who started Aug. 2 as R&D chief at Fitabase, a research platform made by San Diego-based startup Small Steps Labs.

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Ramirez came over from Quantified Self Labs, where he managed the company’s website and planned conferences. He also recently completed a Ph.D. in public health at the University of California, San Diego.

“I actually was able to use Fitabase as part of my Ph.D. dissertation,” Ramirez said. The platform, which collects and de-identifies data from Fitbit users and offers data pools to academic researchers, allowed Ramirez to look at historical data from study subjects.

He researched behavioral habits of people who use fitness trackers on their own, as opposed to, say, part of a disease management program.

And Ramirez actually has used and understood Fitabase from the time it launched in 2012. In many ways, it is the Fitbit equivalent of ResearchKit for collecting data from Apple devices and ResearchStack  for studies built around Android phones and tablets.

“He saw the vision of Fitabase before just about anybody else,” Fitabase CEO Aaron Coleman said. Ramirez and Coleman have known each other for several years, and Coleman said he had tried to get Ramirez to work for Fitabit before.

Fitabase is intended to accelerate research by eliminating some of the steps it often takes to set up a study. “You don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel every time,” Coleman said.

Ramirez said his goal as R&D chief is to make data more “actionable, in real time.” It would be nice to give people immediate feedback for behavior change and to use Fitbits for health monitoring, he explained.

In a blog post from the day he started on the job, Ramirez shared a tweet from author and digital activist Molly Sauter:

He said the tweet sums up what Fitbit’s application provider interface allows Fitabase to do. “We are a set of plumbing,” Ramirez said.

“At Fitabase, we create really useful, well-designed pipes,” Ramirez continued. “It’s not the sexy thing to do … but it is fundamentally essential.”