Google is introducing features that will allow users to measure both their heart rate and their respiratory rate using just their device’s camera.

Google is introducing features that will allow users to take vital health measurements using just their smartphone camera. It is expanding to a whole new group of people health and fitness features usually available only on dedicated wearables. Beginning next month users will be able to measure both their heart rate and their respiratory rate using just their device’s camera.

Usually, taking these measurements has required specialized hardware, including red or green light-based heart-rate monitors. This specialized software is usually found on the Apple Watch or on fitness trackers in Google-acquired Fitbit. The Google Health unit led by Director of Health Technologies Shwetak Patel and the hardware and software teams has managed to develop computer vision-based methods for taking these measurements using only smartphone cameras.

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Source: Google

The technology relies on a technique known as “optical flow” for respiratory rate. This monitors movements in a person’s chest as they breathe and uses it to determine their breathing rate. In its clinical validation study, Google’s data indicates that it’s accurate to within 1 breath per minute across all participants. The study covered both typical individuals in good health and people with existing respiratory conditions.

The company is initially using the camera to detect “subtle color changes” in a user’s fingertip for heart rate. This provides an indicator about when oxygenated blood flows from your heart through to the rest of your body. The company’s validation data has shown accuracy within a 2% margin of error. It is on average across people with a range of different skin types. The company is also working on making this same technology work using color changes in a person’s face though this one is still in its exploratory phase.

These measurement features will be available to users within the next month via the Google Fit app. Initially on currently available Pixel devices made by the company itself. The plan is then to expand the features to different Android devices running Android 6 or later, sometime “in the coming months.”

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