Our Research Projects

ORCATECH Researcher sits down with a participant in their home and explains how the technology platform's watch works

About the Life Lab

The ORCATECH Life Laboratory, or Life Lab, is the foundation of the Center and supports other studies. The Life Lab consists of a network of homes whose residents go about their daily lives while researchers measure and observe their interactions with technology. Members of the Life Lab have the ORCATECH technology platform installed in their homes, including a variety of sensors and smart devices. These technologies can measure home-based daily activities, such as walking speed, sleeping patterns or the amount of times someone left their home.

Researchers use the Life Lab to explore how technologies can support independent living, assess new behavioral markers, and evaluate ways to assess neurological and other health changes. The Life Lab collects real-time continuous data that supports research on health monitoring, health intervention and independent aging. Life Lab members can also participate in studies ranging from longitudinal behavioral research to testing new technology.

Data from the Life Lab

A circular spiral plot graph of the data collected in a Life Lab participant's home

This spiral plot graph is an example of the type of data that is collected from a Life Lab home. In this plot, the dots within each green ring symbolize the sensors that detected activity or movement in a particular room of the participant’s home, such as the bathroom (blue dots), bedroom (red dots) or kitchen (yellow dots). These sensors measured activity over a 24-week period, with the first week being in the inner circle.

The data shows a few patterns. During the first few weeks, as seen in the inner circle, the participant had a routine wake-up time and bedtime. As the weeks progressed, the routine seems to deteriorate. Wake-up and bedtimes begin earlier and become less consistent. The amount of movement in the early morning, represented by the red dots in the bedroom, increases over time. This represents increased restlessness. Researchers can use this type of graph to assess changes in daily routine that could be caused by something as simple as a new schedule or as extreme as the onset of disease.

Satellite life labs

The ORCATECH Life Lab has several satellite sites across the United States and Canada. 

If your institution would like to setup a satellite Life Lab, contact the ORCATECH team. We can provide advice about installing and managing the  technology platform,  recruiting participants and more. 

If interested, please submit an Application for Resource Use. Learn more. 

About CART

The Collaborative Aging Research using Technology (CART) Initiative is a new multi-site, nation-wide project that uses technology and big data to facilitate the independence and health of older adults who are a part of diverse communities. Developed in partnership between the University of Miami, Rush University and OHSU and funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Initiative is initially using the ORCATECH Life Lab platform on a scale of 240 homes with the aim of expanding the network to 10,000 homes across the U.S. in several years.

The Life Lab platform is outfitted in the homes of older adults, including African-Americans and Latinos living in Chicago and Miami, low-income octogenarians living in Portland and veterans living in rural areas of the Pacific Northwest. By analyzing the big data that is derived from the platform, researchers can determine if the platform can measure and predict loss of independence.

Learn more about CART

CART data

In addition to focusing on diversity, the Initiative is incorporating new technologies into the platform as they become available, facilitating secure data sharing among its partners and determining the platform's scalability. Data and methodologies are shared with partners, collaborators and other interested researchers.  

The E-FIND Study is examining how financial behaviors change with age. The goal is to discover the relationships between financial behaviors and cognitive health. Participants receive a personal financial monitoring service that is designed especially for older adults. ORCATECH is partnering with EverSafe, the company that will be providing financial monitoring. EverSafe will send participants alerts if they detect any significant unusual activity in their accounts.

About RITE

As technology becomes a larger part of our lives, OHSU researchers want to know how computers, wearables and other devices can help us improve healthcare. 

The RITE Study (Research via Internet of Technology and Experience) consists of a group of participants who complete online surveys on a regular basis about their opinions on healthcare and technology. These surveys allow researchers to frequently capture novel data. Online participation allows researchers to reach a broader community, which in turn supports the development of more inclusive projects.

The goals of the RITE study are to 

  • Better understand people's health and healthcare preferences and behaviors
  • Better understand the kinds of technologies people are interested in incorporating into their healthcare
  • Better understand how collecting information over the Internet can improve healthcare

Participating in RITE

Participation is 100 percent online. Researchers email survey links directly to participants. Participants also receive newsletters with updates about survey results.

Learn how to volunteer for the RITE study

Results from previous surveys

Autonomous vehicles

This survey asked participants about their thoughts on autonomous vehicles. 
View the survey results

Caregiving and technology

This survey asked participants about their thoughts on technology and how it can support caregiving.
View the survey results


This survey asked participants about their thoughts on survey wearables. 
View the survey results

The RITE Study in action

One of the questions included in one of our surveys asked participants about their phone usage. Researchers wanted to know how many participants own mobile phones, how many use landlines and how often they use each. Existing surveys, such as the Pew Internet and American Life Survey, were not research focused nor were their responses detailed enough for future technology or user assessment protocol development.

This interactive survey included images of phones to help facilitate responses, which especially helped our senior participants. After analyzing the data, researchers discovered that more survey-respondents were transitioning to mobile phones from landlines. A separate survey focused on seniors residing in Section 8 low-income housing found that a significant proportion of mobile phone use (51%) exists in this community.

An example of a survey question used in the RITE study, asking about phone usage
An example of a RITE study survey question

Partnering with RITE

If you are interested in using RITE study participants for your own survey research or accessing survey-related data that was collected by ORCATECH, please submit a Resource Use Application.

Learn more. 

All clinical research for the past century to this day has relied on episodic clinic visits and self-report of symptom changes and events. Relying on this approach especially for people with memory impairment is challenging. It creates great research imprecision and barriers to developing effective therapies.

Dr. Jeffery Kaye and his team have developed the first technology system that allows researchers to unobtrusively assess at home how a person, as well as a caregiver, are functioning in real time. This has opened up a revolution in how we can determine whether therapies are truly effective. Importantly, this approach promises to speed the process of clinical drug trials themselves.

The first study (called "EVALUATE –AD": Ecologically Valid, Ambient, Longitudinal and Unbiased Assessment of Treatment Efficacy in Alzheimer's Disease) of couples (one with Alzheimer's disease, the other a care partner) employing this technology to determine how effective current standard Alzheimer's therapies are at a level of detail never before possible has begun.

Funded by the NIA and Merck & Co., the EVALUATE-AD study uses the Life Lab platform to measure daily activity. 

Walking and social engagement may reduce African Americans' risk for Alzheimer's disease and other dementias while improving cognitive function. Yet for some older African Americans in N/NE Portland, finding motivation to begin neighborhood walking and social interaction can be difficult in the face of neighborhood change.

The Sharing History through Active Reminiscence and Photo-imagery (SHARP) pilot program, led by Dr. Raina Croff and ORCATECH staff, uses a unique combination of smart-phone technology and neighborhood history to motivate participants aged 55 and older to complete up to 72 small-group walks in 6 months. Using a tablet device, walking groups select from a menu of 1-mile routes in Portland's historically African American neighborhoods. Routes are themed (e.g. Nightlife, School Days, Food and Markets) and display historical neighborhood images approximately 10 minutes apart to prompt conversational reminiscence. Participants' recorded neighborhood stories will be integrated into community learning sessions that celebrate the local African American past while educating about healthy aging.

Volunteer for a study

Several of these studies are currently recruiting participants. 

Find out how to join a research study. 

Featured past projects

Ambient Independence Measures for Guiding Care Transitions

Investigator: Jeff Kaye, M.D.
Funding Period: 2013 to 2018
Funding Source: National Institute on Aging

Our rapidly aging population will result in an increasing number of people at risk for loss of independence through dementia, frailty and other syndromes of aging. The high cost of health care to assist the dependent elderly is expected to soar by 2030, when over 20% of the U.S. population will be over the age of 65, many of whom will be unable to live independently. Some of this cost can be avoided by helping individuals remain independent and at home for as long as possible. The long-term objective of our research is to develop systems that improve our ability to unobtrusively monitor important health changes due to chronic disease and aging, allowing timely intervention to prevent avoidable health deterioration or loss of independence. Using technologies that we have developed and tested over the past five years in hundreds of seniors' homes, we will determine if such Ambient Independence Measures (AIMs), collected using unobtrusive sensors distributed throughout an individual's natural living environment, aid in making decisions about transitions to different levels of care.

Conversational Engagement Study

Full Project Title: Detecting changes in the levels of social engagement: Conversational Pilot Study
Investigator: Hiroko Dodge, Ph.D.
Funding Period: 2011 to 2015
Funding Source: National Institute on Aging

We examined whether frequent conversations using webcam and internet could improve thinking abilities among the elderly. First, we examined who are likely to participate in our trial by distributing surveys to local seniors. Over 2000 surveys were distributed. The results were used to estimate the potential sample selection bias in our trial (the publication #1 below). Our randomized controlled trial showed high adherence (over 89%) and improved language-based executive functions among the experimental group in comparison with the control group (publication #2 below). By using the recorded conversations, we also found interaction patterns differ by participants' cognitive status (publication #3 below). We plan to extend the study to a larger population in the near future.

New investigator projects

ORCATECH also supports graduate students and other new investigators who are performing important research at OHSU.

Past Projects

Adriana Seelye, Ph.D., completed a project entitled, "Constructing unobtrusive objective measures of everyday cognition and function." The goal of her research project was to develop a computer use activity as one component of a novel, everyday cognition assessment suite embedded in a pervasive computing environment. She determined which markers embedded within the activity are most sensitive to early decline or changes in health status, and to demonstrate the activity’s feasibility as a real-world objective measure of everyday cognition for cognitively intact older adults and those with mild cognitive impairment.

Past Projects

Julia Leach worked on integrating a balance assessment system into ORCATECH’s in-home technological platform to extract frequent, longitudinal, objective measures of postural sway (both in elders who are cognitively intact and elders with mild cognitive impairment, or MCI). The objectives of her dissertation research were to determine how abnormalities and longitudinal changes in postural sway relate to cognitive decline and falls in older adults with MCI.

Johanna Petersen: Using unobtrusive sensors in the home, Johanna worked at developing methods to detect loneliness in seniors as they begin to become lonely. By developing methods to monitor behaviors relating to loneliness, Johanna worked to identify changes in behavior that signify an individual is experiencing loneliness. She also worked to validating an intervention to help reduce loneliness so identified seniors can be enrolled in a program that meets their specific needs.

Past Projects

Daniel Austin, Ph.D., is a graduate of the OHSU Department of Biomedical Engineering. While working as a research instructor in the Department of Neurology, his work focused on fusing multiple data streams captured in a person’s own home (walking speed, sleep, time spent out-of-home, computer use, mobility, etc.) into a cohesive behavioral model to assess current health levels and predict future adverse health outcomes. Two projects included: 1) Assessment of a person’s current pain level and affect from a behavioral model, and 2) Understanding the behavioral correlates of older adults’ transitions to advanced care (e.g., when a person transitions from living independently to having a nurse regularly visit the home) and assessing the risk of future transitions from change in behavior over time.

Zach Beattie, Ph.D., is a graduate of the OHSU Department of Biomedical Engineering. When he was a senior research associate in the Department of Psychiatry, Zach researched the use of force sensors placed under the supports of the bed to unobtrusively detect sleep apnea and other health characteristics.