You can already use most smartphones as glorified pedometers thanks to apps that can use the motion sensors to track your movement. If you have a Google Pixel smartphone soon you’ll be able to use the phone’s hardware to track even more health stats.
How is Google doing this without adding any new hardware to the mix? Via the camera.
Google says once you grant the app permission to use your phone’s cameras, you can measure respiratory rate by positioning the phone sot he front facing camera can see your head and upper torso. Breathe normally and the phone will measure your respiration.
Heart rate measurement comes courtesy of the rear camera – place your finger over the lens of the camera on the back of your phone and it should be able to detect the rate at which your heart is pumping blood throughout your body.
Google notes that using a camera for these sorts of measurements isn’t as precise as using purpose-built hardware and that “these measurements aren’t meant for medical diagnosis or to evaluate medical conditions.” But if you’re trying to get a sense of whether your quarantine workout gets your heart and lungs pumping, it’s probably better than nothing.
Data can be saved to your Google Fit app to let you track trends over time, or you can discard the results if you’d prefer.
Third-party apps have been offering heart rate measurements for years – the first time I wrote about this technique was way back in 2010. But modern phones tend to have better cameras and support for hardware-accelerated computer vision algorithms which could make the latest iteration a bit more accurate.
Google says it’s also tested its software in a range of situations to account for things like ambient lighting, skin tone, and age so that heart rate detection can accurately measure changes in the color of your fingertip.