Google Health, the health and wellness division of Google, has developed a way to measure respiratory rate using a smartphone camera – a revolutionary feature that it says will first become available to Google Pixel phone users with the Google Fit app, but that it will soon expand to more Android devices.
The technology works using a smartphone camera and a computer vision technique, optical flow. By pointing the camera at themselves, users allow the phone to measure their respiratory rates via subtle movements in their chest. Meanwhile, the rear lens of the smartphone is able to measure heart rate by identifying subtle colour changes in the fingertip that identify the process of photoplethysmography (when freshly oxygenated blood flows from the heart through the body). Google stresses that measurements are not meant for medical diagnosis – but just to help individuals track and improve day-to-day wellness.
Allowing users to take control of their health
“We’re working on ways to unlock the potential of everyday smart devices. We’re exploring how to leverage sensors that are becoming more ubiquitous to support health and wellness,” said Shwetak Patel, Director of Health Technologies at Google Health. “There is a paradigm shift in health measurement. Our team of researchers, engineers, and clinicians are exploring how everyday devices and inexpensive sensors can give people the information and insights they need to take control of their health.”
Exploiting the phone to increase user access to health and wellness
Elsewhere, Google plans to share the results of its studies into smartphone cameras for tracking heart rate in a publication that is due in the coming weeks. Technical Lead at Google Health Jiening Shan noted that Google Health’s algorithm is accurate within one breath per minute on average and that the heart rate measurement algorithm is accurate within two per cent on average.
Consumer-centric healthcare offerings are rapidly taking the lead in the healthcare sphere, especially at the moment, where the ongoing global pandemic has led to an urgent need for enhanced remote care offerings, as well as a strengthened focused on maintaining and improving personal health and wellness. In an article published in August 2020, Hospitals & Healthcare explored the many benefits that remote patient monitoring technologies (such as this new venture from Google Health) would bring to both payers and providers.
Patel added: “We’re exploring a variety of sensors to bring to bear for health and wellness. The smartphone is a good starting point and we’re exploring other devices in our product lines.”