How important is the shape of the bottle when selecting a dishwashing detergent? “Not that important,” shares a grandmother with arthritis, and yet the way she holds the bottle, her heart rate, skin response and facial expression tell a very different story.

How do we identify usable insights from massive quantities of data, and use these insights to improve quality of life or facilitate independent living into older adulthood? Consumer products companies and academic researchers alike struggle with these issues. In most cases, those groups work independently towards some of the same goals — often in less-than-ideal research space.

That’s not the case at the University of Michigan. U-M’s BioSocial Methods Collaborative program is ‘home’ to the HomeLab, a fully functional, modular apartment to facilitate human-centered research in a wide variety of contexts. It’s an exciting new research space where these questions are explored and have real implications in the lives of patients, consumers, and businesses, and the research can be done jointly and collaboratively in the same space.

Innovative methods in an open environment
Unlike many unit-based spaces in campus settings, the HomeLab is a collective University-wide resource. Researchers from across U-M’s 19 schools and colleges – over 5,200 of them – have access to the HomeLab. HomeLab users are fully supported across the research process, including access to the BioSocial Methods Collaborative team’s unique approach to innovative methods development in an interdisciplinary context.

Three Fortune 500 companies are early adopters of this research approach. Collaborators are finding just how important an independent facility with expert faculty and dedicated research support team can be. Jeannette Jackson, Managing Director of the BioSocial Methods Collaborative shared, “Very few places allow interdisciplinary, non-competitive environments for this level of biosocial research. U-M is the only place like this in the world. Others don’t integrate data in this way, have the ability to stream, collect, store and analyze massive amounts of data on multiple channels simultaneously by interdisciplinary faculty. That’s an extremely big competitive advantage for our users and offers opportunity for new research methods beyond the likes of which we’ve seen before.”

Early research
The BioSocial Methods Collaborative (BSMC) is engaged in biosocial research projects with P&G, Adidas and GM that are designed to collect behavioral and biological data in new ways leading to innovation in methods and results. All of this improves quality of care, facilitates ease of use for work and living environments, and provides insights into consumer behavior and habit adoption. And this can in turn improve an organization’s profitability.

Cristine Agresta knows firsthand the impact this research can have. As an assistant research scientist in the School of Kinesiology and co-director of the Michigan Performance Research Laboratory, Cristine’s research has been elevated by the options available through BSMC. She shares, “BSMC is now making it possible to translate information, in the form of multiple data streams, into knowledge. The convergence of these multiple data streams collected in real-time create a personal (biological) thumbprint that can be directly linked to the lived experience or perception of a product. For companies interested in customization or consumer satisfaction, this enhances their ability to effectively and efficiently generate desired user experiences that are grounded in science.”

Consumer products conglomerate Procter & Gamble leads their industry in biosocial research, in part due to lab space in their Cincinnati-based corporate headquarters. “The more we talked with P&G, the more we realized our goals were aligned. We both wanted research that would improve the quality of life over a person’s entire life span. We learned so much from them,” said Jackson. Serving as more than just an inspirational space, P&G’s team provided essential advice to U-M on the road to designing a world-class facility.

“What they’ve created at Michigan is beyond our expectations. We are thrilled to be a part of it and continue growing our research relationship there.” Jennifer Chiao, Director, R&D, Fabric and Home Care.

Sensors and more sensors
The permutations for data collection at HomeLab are seemingly unlimited. An integrative data acquisition system allows for simultaneous, synchronized data capture and lets researchers view experiments from multiple perspectives, using sensors both on the person and in the environment.

Each project dictates the technology used, instead of the other way around. Users can mix and match lab technologies (heart rate, sweat response, eye gaze, and more) to capture high-quality data in a more comfortable and natural research interaction while conducting research in a well-controlled standardized environment.

This is just the beginning of the customization and innovation facilitated by the HomeLab. Each project draws in the considerable expertise from across the University system to innovate the methods needed to analyze the data for insights into human behavior.

Faculty resources
The HomeLab is a fully supported research space in which faculty can test protocol in a controlled environment and, as part of the larger U-M set of resources, is set up to work with the different core facilities around campus. The BioSocial Methods Collaborative mission is to innovate methods to connect biology and behavior and cultivates experts from different fields interested in this systemic work to foster interdisciplinary collaboration.

“Innovation happens at the seams of various disciplines. We are excited to partner with different thought leaders around a common challenge”, agreed James Denbow, Research Fellow, R&D, Family Care and Eugene Tavares, Principal Scientist, R&D, Corporate Products Research.

For more information on BioSocial Methods Collaborative or the HomeLab, please visit http://biosocialmethods.isr.umich.edu/ or contact your BEC relationship manager.