Wearables, be it smartwatches or fitness trackers, are evolving into medical devices. A large portion of the industry finds health and fitness tracking abilities of wearables to be the biggest selling point of these devices. The media reports of Apple Watch saving a human being from heart attack only validates the ability of wearable devices being used as medical devices.
While wearables devices already track heart rate, sleep cycle, and steps taken during the day with considerable amount of accuracy, the companies making these devices are now on to tracking blood pressure. At CES 2018 early this year, Omron showcased HeartGuide, a fitness watch capable of measuring blood pressure. Samsung has also tried to measure blood pressure via dedicated sensors with its flagship Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ smartphones. However, the technology is yet to take off in a big way, and it can be because of a need for an unobtrusive way to measure blood pressure.
While the traditional method of blood pressure monitoring involves wearing a pressure cuff and sending stimuli to record systolic and diastolic pressure, the same won’t work in the case of devices like wearables and smartphones. The sensors not only need to replicate this action, but they must also be passive, meaning capable of recording blood pressure periodically. While we have seen Samsung and Omron’s implementation and have heard about Apple working on to add blood pressure with next Apple Watch, Microsoft might have taken the strangest route to solve the mystery of measuring blood pressure on smart devices.
Microsoft has patented a pair of glasses that measure blood pressure. The details of the prototype were revealed in a report by Christian Holz and Edward Wang of Microsoft Research, who note that the optical sensors are in the arms of the glasses. The report states that these sensors measure the pulse at three different sites on the user’s face, and then measure the time and rate between these three areas and the heart to calculate a blood pressure.
The glasses also come with other sensors that collect data such as movement and record changes in vital signs over a period of time based on different activities. The report by Microsoft Researchers claims that it has a successful trial during real-world use and is said to be faster than traditional methods. However, the curious part of this method is that it only measures systolic pressure (the higher value on a blood pressure reading), and not the diastolic pressure (the lower value on a blood pressure reading). Doctors generally give prominence to the diastolic pressure in the case of a cardiac event.
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The patent detailed by Microsoft does not necessarily mean that it will translate into a final product. Microsoft has lost out in hardware segment like smartphones and has also pulled out from making fitness wearables. However, it does show new ways to measure human blood pressure without any obtrusive element and other tech companies might succeed in developing variants of this technology.