Cameras on Google Pixel smartphones will be able to measure heart and breathing rates starting next month, in one of the first applications of Alphabet's artificial intelligence technology to its wellness services. Health programmes available on Google Play's store and Apple’s App Store for years have provided the same functionality. But a study in 2017 found accuracy varied and adoption of the apps remains low.
Google Health leaders told reporters earlier this week they had advanced the AI powering the measurements and plan to detail its method and clinical trial in an academic paper in the coming weeks. The company expects to roll out the feature to other Android smartphones at an unspecified time, it said in a blog post on Thursday, but plans for iPhones are unclear. Apple's Watch, Google's Fitbit and other wearables have greatly expanded the reach of continuous heart rate sensing technologies to a much larger population.
The smartphone camera approach is more ad hoc - users who want to take a pulse place their finger over the lens, which catches subtle colour changes that correspond to blood flow. Respiration is calculated from video of upper torso movements. Google Health product manager Jack Po said that the company wanted to give an alternative to manual pulse checks for smartphone owners who only want to monitor their condition occasionally but cannot afford a wearable.
Po said the technology, which can mistake heart rates by about 2 percent, requires further testing before it could be used in medical settings. The new feature will be available as an update to the Google Fit app. Google consolidated its health services about two years ago, aiming to better compete with Apple, Samsung Electronics Co and other mobile technology companies that have invested heavily in marketing wellness offerings.