Fitness trackers and smartwatches that can monitor body vitals are a dime a dozen these days but not everyone might be keen on wearing one all the time. Some only have their smartphones with them but the number of devices with built-in sensors for measuring biometrics has considerably dwindled. Just like with mobile photography, Google has found ways to make software do what would normally require specialized hardware to pull off and it’s now rolling that out to the Google Fit app for Android.
Measuring the heart rate with a phone’s camera isn’t actually a new trick, though others have employed the help of LED flash to shine a light on the matter, literally. Google doesn’t mention that in its short instructional video but uses the same principle. In a nutshell, it uses the video captured by the camera to detect and measure the pulse in your fingertip to derive your heart rate from it.
Measuring respiratory rate is a bit trickier but still uses the Pixel’s camera, simple video recording, and, of course, sophisticated algorithms. Here, the front-facing camera is used instead to record a video of your body from the chest up. It uses this to calculate your breaths per minute so users are advised not to wear any accessories and to wait a few minutes after an activity before you start measuring.
Google warns that these measurements shouldn’t be considered accurate enough for medical purposes. They’re simply offered to help ordinary people get a general idea of their health regularly in addition to doctor visits and using professional medical equipment.
Google Fit’s heart and respiratory rate tracking features are rolling out first to Pixel phones before expanding to other Android phones sometime in the future. Google also assures that all the video streams are processed in real-time on the device so no data is getting leaked in transit. They are not even stored on the device nor on Google servers anyway though you can save your results in the Google Fit app at your own discretion.