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The company, which has also acquired Fitbit, is moving into a space beyond wearables when it comes to health and fitness tracking. The upgraded Google Fit app doesn’t need a smart watch to track a user’s pulse – it just needs access to a phone’s camera. At the moment, the technology is reserved for Google’s Pixel phones, but plans are already in play to expand over to Android devices.

looking at cellphone - healthcare monitoring via phone camera

While useful, these are not medical measurements. These are certainly not tools used in medical diagnostics, nor are they meant to help physicians evaluate conditions. Instead, this upgrade is meant to provide users with a way to track their own health and to keep up with any improvements they make as they focus more on getting in shape.

How it Works

The actual technology behind Google’s leap forward is quite interesting. The company utilizes optical flow, a specialized computerized vision technique, in order to detect movements in a user’s chest. As long as the top of the user’s torso is in front of the the phone’s camera, the camera can capture the movements necessary to measure the user’s breathing.

Likewise, the heartrate monitor uses imaging techniques to detect heart rate in a way that might surprise many users. Rather than looking at movement, the camera picks up on how the color of the user’s fingertips change as blood flows into the extremities. All it takes is a quick measurement of the user’s finger on the rear camera to gather valuable data.

Google has put in quite a bit of work to make this technology work for as wide a range of potential users as possible. The company worked carefully to cultivate a group with a wide range of different health conditions, heart rates, and even skin tones to ensure that their technology could accurately pick up the necessary data across the board. In fact, Google actually plans to release data about their findings in these studies in a peer-reviewed journal in the near future. As far as Google is concerned, though, these studies have already borne fruit. The respiratory tracking features area already incredibly accurate when compared to even standard tests, as are the heart rate measurements.

The Fitbit Question

The biggest question involving this new technology isn’t whether it works, but rather how it’s going to be integrated into Google’s other products. Google has recently purchased Fitbit, for example, and there are already questions about how this tech might work within the wearable category.

Those questions are even more important when one looks at the wearables market. There are already dozens of different devices that can do what Google’s new tools do, though they rely on touch sensors rather than cameras. While Fitbit might be the key to round-the-clock monitoring, it seems that Google is looking at this new tool as one that’s meant to take a lead role in active, sporadic monitoring situations.

What the Future Holds

For now, the future of these features looks like it will be one focused on smartphones. Google has admitted that there is a possibility that these features could someday become as much a part of the medical field as medical transcription, but unlike medical transcription devices any moves towards creating a device that incorporates these features will require the approval of the FDA.