Google’s Pixel phones will soon be able to track heart rate and respiratory rate using just the camera. The feature will be made available in Google Fit app for Pixel phones, the company announced in a blog post. The feature will be expanded to more Android phones in the future, but it is not specified which devices will get this next.
In a blog post, Google’s Shwetak Patel, Director of Health Technologies at Google Health, wrote, the feature will be made available starting next month, and the company will be relying on sensors which are already built into the smartphone such as the “microphone, camera and accelerometer” to track the new health parameters.
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So how will Pixel phones track heart rate and respiratory rate?
Google says users will just have to place their head and upper torso in view of the phone’s front facing camera and breathe normally. This will be used to measure the respiratory rate in the Google Fit app. For the heart rate measurement, users will simply need to place their finger on the rear-facing camera lens.
Google’s approach is a certainly a unique one, given that heart-rate tracking typically requires a dedicated sensor on wearable fitness devices such as smartwatches and bands. But Google is also cautioning that these measurements are NOT “meant for medical diagnosis or to evaluate medical conditions.”
The idea is that these will be used for people who rely on the Google Fit app and want to track their daily wellness. The blogpost adds that users can choose to save these measurements in the app “to monitor trends over time, alongside other health and wellness information.”
According to Google, they are making use of the “increasingly powerful sensors and advances in computer vision” to use the smartphone camera to “track tiny physical signals at the pixel level.” So “chest movements” will be used to measure the respiratory rate. For heart-rate, it will track subtle changes in the colour of fingers.
But how accurate is this new feature?
Google says the features were developed in-house and the company has completed “initial clinical studies to validate them.” Google is relying on its own customary algorithms to calculate the heart rate and respiratory rate. It also claims these will work “in a variety of real-world conditions and for as many people as possible.”
The post notes that the “heart rate algorithm relies on approximating blood flow from colour 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 certainly a new and unique feature to make its way to an Android smartphone, keep in mind that this is not designed for medical evaluation purposes, but rather for general, daily health. Further, the accuracy of the feature will still have to tested once it starts rolling out to Pixel phones.