Problematising bias in wearable tech and smart medical devices: Exploring design, data gaps, and implications for law

Undergraduate Research Scholarship project 2020

Birmingham Law School

Project academics: Dr Rachael Dickson, Dr Joseph Roberts, and Professor Muireann Quigley

Project summary

Wearable technologies and smart medical devices markets have become increasingly sophisticated. Devices, such as pacemakers and insulin pumps, not only have a physical existence, but can run software, enabling them to collect analyse, and transmit data. Such technologies are cited as part of the solution to the problem of overburdened healthcare systems. It is increasingly desirable that individuals manage their own health, reducing time and cost pressures.

However, questions exist about biases with both the physical design of these devices, the software development processes, and the data that informs how the technologies function. Reliance on the stereotypical male archetype leads to the experiences of women, ethnic groups, and lower socioeconomic groups being marginalised. This project examines such data gaps in order to problematize the legal subject used in the development of the law for their use. It will look at whether and how biases could be addressed, including considering what legal and extra-legal measures might be effective and appropriate.

What you will do 

  • Search and identify academic literature on gender, race, poverty, inequality and intersectional issues that affect use of wearable technologies and smart medical devices. This will include the legal literature, as well as that in the social sciences, medical sciences, and grey literature such as online news articles.
  • Synthesise the perspectives gained from the legal literature with the knowledge of the use of smart medical devices.
  • Identify areas for further research and develop questions that should be addressed.

Depending on the time available and progress made, we can appropriately amend the project as we go along.

Skills required 

The scholarship holder will require:

  • Strong research skills in law (including critical thinking and writing)
  • An ability to deal with voluminous and complex materials in a time efficient manner
  • Ability to work independently
  • Organisational skills and attention to detail
  • Excellent note taking skills

Basic knowledge of, and an interest in, health care law and gendered/post-colonial approaches to law would be an advantage.

How will the project benefit you?

  • This project will give the Scholarship holder an opportunity to conduct research on an exciting, yet underexplored area.
  • They will develop their critical research, thinking, and writing skills, whilst gaining new knowledge across multiple disciplines.
  • Working on the project will enhance their ability to work independently at a high level.
  • They will benefit from guidance and mentorship throughout the project.
  • Their work will give them an insight into the research aspect of academic life and working on a research grant.


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