|I started in the pharmaceutical industry in 1976, as a neuroscientist
with Astra (the Swedish pharmaceutical company) working in Edinburgh. Many of the
older drugs used in psychiatry are very sedative, which causes problems
with driving, and can also be unpleasant for patients. In order to show
that newer drugs were less sedative we needed to
study reaction times, hand-eye coordination, memory and so on. One of my
early tasks was to put together a test battery, which in those days meant
some tests using pencil and paper timed with a stopwatch, and a
few using custom-built electronic equipment. Then in the late 70s, we
started to see computers that were small and inexpensive enough to
dedicate to cognitive testing. I first programmed a cognitive test battery
on a Sharp MZ80K, and then moved to the BBC micro. Some of the tests
were computer versions of existing tests, others we built from scratch. We
soon had a cognitive battery which was used both for evaluating new
drugs and for assessing patients with cognitive impairment, e.g. with
I was also interested in doing basic research on drugs, evaluating their effects on different aspect of performance in order to better understand their mechanisms of action. This interest has continued to the present day, and has involved a variety of drugs including alcohol. I have also been involved in studying the time course of drug action, and how it relates to the absorption and elimination of the drug in the body.
In the 1980s. my work in the pharmaceutical industry moved from clinical research to data management and statistics, so I learned a lot about running computer networks and supporting users, as well as the processes involved in handling of data from large scale projects. Some of the biggest headaches were in studies using patient diaries, where patients enter their symptoms at home every day. This generated enormous volumes of data, often of uncertain quality. When small handheld computers came in, we rapidly saw their potential as devices for patients to use at home, as the pen interface is an easy and natural one for those who are not computer experts. We set up evaluation studies on the Apple Newton in 1994, and showed that patients liked these devices, and that this was a practical way of getting reliable data from patients' everyday lives (see e.g. Tiplady et al., 1997)
|Handhelds and tablets also had obvious potential for cognitive testing.
They are very portable, and the touchscreen interface allows ways of
programming a wider variety of tasks than a conventional PC. I started
programming for the Newton as soon as I could get my hands on the development
kit, and soon had my first working application, a letter cancellation task
(shown on the left). I demonstrated this at the British Pharmacological Society meeting
in December 1993. This was, I believe, the first published report of the
use of a pen computer to carry out a psychological test. I then set up a wide range of tests on the Newton, resulting in a
comprehensive, portable, easy to use test battery. See Cameron
et al. (2001) for a description and validation data.
Times move on, and portable electronics now means mobile phones, smartphones, and tablets. I am working on all types of platform. They each have their place, with the basic mobile phone still having the potential to run large studies at low cost, while smartphones and tablets are more versatile, in particular having a touchscreen and being available in a range of screen sizes. The 5" -7" sizes are particularly useful for portable testing.
I am now mostly working on the Android® platform, which has the advantages of an open operating system and relatively low cost. The PenScreenSix platform, an off-the-shelf Android cognitive test battery now has 20 tests, covering most cognitive domains. I also do consultancy/design work, providing custom solutions for particular projects