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Smartphone Global Positioning System–Based System to Assess Mobility in Health Research: Development, Accuracy, and Usability Study

Spang, Robert P.; Haeger, Christine; Mümken, Sandra A.; Brauer, Max; Voigt-Antons, Jan-Niklas; Gellert, Paul

Background: As global positioning system (GPS) measurement is getting more precise and affordable, health researchers can now objectively measure mobility using GPS sensors. Available systems, however, often lack data security and means of adaptation and often rely on a permanent internet connection. Objective: To overcome these issues, we aimed to develop and test an easy-to-use, easy-to-adapt, and offline working app using smartphone sensors (GPS and accelerometry) for the quantification of mobility parameters. Methods: An Android app, a server backend, and a specialized analysis pipeline have been developed (development substudy). Parameters of mobility by the study team members were extracted from the recorded GPS data using existing and newly developed algorithms. Test measurements were performed with participants to complete accuracy and reliability tests (accuracy substudy). Usability was examined by interviewing community-dwelling older adults after 1 week of device use, followed by an iterative app design process (usability substudy). Results: The study protocol and the software toolchain worked reliably and accurately, even under suboptimal conditions, such as narrow streets and rural areas. The developed algorithms had high accuracy (97.4% correctness, F1-score=0.975) in distinguishing dwelling periods from moving intervals. The accuracy of the stop/trip classification is fundamental to second-order analyses such as the time out of home, as they rely on a precise discrimination between the 2 classes. The usability of the app and the study protocol was piloted with older adults, which showed low barriers and easy implementation into daily routines. Conclusions: Based on accuracy analyses and users’ experience with the proposed system for GPS assessments, the developed algorithm showed great potential for app-based estimation of mobility in diverse health research contexts, including mobility patterns of community-dwelling older adults living in rural areas. International Registered Report Identifier (IRRID): RR2-10.1186/s12877-021-02739-0
Published in: JMIR Rehabilitation and Assistive Technologies, 10.2196/42258, JMIR Publications