- On Thursday, Google released an updated fitness app that utilizes mobile camera to monitor respiration and heart rate
- The modified version will come next month to the Fit app that will use camera sensors to detect chest moving as they breathe, calculating their respiration rate
- This app is only available on Google Pixel phones as of now, however it will soon be extended to more Android phones in the future
Using just the camera, Google’s Pixel phones will soon be able to track heart rate and respiratory rate. In a blog post, the company revealed that the feature would be made available in the Google Fit app for Pixel phones. In the future, the functionality will be extended to more Android phones, but which devices will get this next is not specified.
In a blog post, Google’s Shwetak Patel, Google Health Director of Health Technology, wrote that the feature will be made available next month, and the company will rely on sensors such as the “microphone, camera and accelerometer” that are already integrated into the smartphone to monitor the new health parameters.
How are Pixel phones going to track the heart rate and respiratory rate?
Google says users only need to position their head and upper torso in view of the front-facing camera of the phone and usually breathe. This will be used in the Google Fit application to calculate the respiratory rate. Users would simply need to position their finger on the rear-facing camera lens for the heart rate calculation.
The approach of Google is definitely interesting, because heart rate monitoring usually involves a dedicated sensor on wearable fitness equipment such as smartwatches and bands. But Google also warns that these scales are NOT “meant for medical diagnosis or medical conditions to be evaluated.”
The idea is that these would be used by individuals who rely on the Google Fit app and want to track their everyday well-being. The blogpost adds that, along with other health and wellness statistics, users can choose to save these measurements in the app “to monitor trends over time.”
According to Google, they use “increasingly powerful sensors and computer vision advances” to use the smartphone camera to “track tiny physical signals at the pixel level.” In order to calculate the respiratory rate, “chest movements” would be used. It will detect subtle changes in the color of the fingers for heart-rate.
How accurate is this new feature?
Google claims the features were created in-house and “initial clinical studies to validate them have been completed by the company.” Google relies on its own traditional algorithms to measure the heart rate and respiratory rate. It also argues that they can operate “in a range of real-world conditions and for as many people as possible.”
The post notes that the “heart rate algorithm depends on approximating blood flow from color changes in someone’s fingertip,” and accounts “for factors such as lighting, skin tone, age and more in order to work for everyone.”
While this is undoubtedly a new and innovative feature to make its way to an Android device, bear in mind that this is not intended for purposes of medical assessment, but rather for general, everyday health. In addition, once it begins rolling out on Pixel phones, the quality of the feature will also have to be tested.