Google’s Research on Earbuds with Health monitoring confirms New Product features

Earbuds and Health Monitoring capabilities at Google

Numerous Research articles point to the unique power of health monitoring using Hearables. Major consumer tech companies are already in the process of developing new product features targeting this emerging health tech. 

Late last year, Google researchers published a paper that provided some clues and thinking around audioplethysmography for cardiac monitoring with hearables.  This was presented at the 2023 ACM MobiCom proceedings.

The paper showcases a new cardiac monitoring modality for earbuds with ANC (Active noise cancellation). The results from this study show consistent increases in accuracy for HR and HRV.Accuracy of earbuds health monitoring

Smartwatches such as the Google Pixel Watch or the Apple Watch can already monitor your HR and HRV but there are some disadvantages of on-wrist Plethysmography. One of the disadvantages is how wearables operate in different skin tone conditions.

Smartwatches and the problems with Skin Tone for health Monitoring

FDA is acutely aware of some of these issues. On December 24th, 2022, plaintiff, Alex Morales, on behalf of other similarly situated, filed a class action lawsuit in the Southern District of New York against Apple, Inc.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs allege consumer fraud, breaches of expressed warranty, implied warranty of merchantability/fitness for a particular purpose, and unjust enrichment.

The complaint cites recent scientific studies concluding that while the Apple Watch pulse oximeter function was able to detect reductions in blood oxygen levels as well as a medical-grade device, both the Apple product and medical-grade devices fail to accurately detect oxygen levels in people of color.

Because the plaintiffs relied on representations that they could use their Apple Watches for this function, they request relief including monetary damages. 

This is one of the big issues that hearables with in-ear health monitoring can address.

The Google study clearly showed that APG (Audioplethysmography)  is resilient to variation in: skin tone, sub-optimal seal conditions, and ear canal size.

Google’s study also suggested that APG enables robust monitoring of cardiac activities using mass-market ANC headphones, even in the presence of music playback and body motion such as running.

Google researchers also acknowledge that one may leverage the dicrotic notches shown in the APG waveform to measure the blood pressure through pulse wave analysis.

Valencell, a wearables sensor company, has also been working on in-ear health monitoring sensor capabilities for some time now.

When it comes to cardiac monitoring accuracy, there are some potential advantages of in-ear monitoring said Valencell’s President, Steven LeBoeuf in a previous interview with CNET that the ear is by far the best area to measure blood pressure compared to a finger or wrist: The ear has more blood flow and a richer heart rate reading, and ears stay the same distance from your heart (as long as you’re not bending over). 

Amazfit, another popular wearables company is selling Powerbuds pro, earbuds with unique health options.Earbuds with sports and health monitoring capabilities

Equipped with the industry-leading ear canal heart rate module, ensuring more accurate exercise heart rate monitoring. Amazfit PowerBuds provide sports data tracking to track your speed, distance, calories burned, heart rate and more while walking, running and cycling.

The Cupertino giant is not behind when it comes to in-ear health monitoring actions.Adjustable AirPods for Sleep

Numerous Apple patents show how the company is working on in-ear health monitoring. The company is also exploring design modifications of the current AirPods product line to adjust for sleep use and more. Adjustable shape housings made with flexible structures can provide the AirPods the ability to be used as a sleep monitoring device.

According to Mark Gurman, a noted Apple analyst, Apple is gearing up to showcase some health features on a version of the upcoming AirPods.  Specifically, the company is planning body temperature, hearing tests, and hearing aid features for AirPods.

We believe that your next wireless earbuds are likely to offer capabilities such as hearing tests. Jabra already provides a similar feature.

In-ear health monitoring is getting significant traction and it is very much possible that we will have newer earbuds soon from one of the tech giants that provide blood pressure monitoring abilities and other cardiac monitoring capabilities irrespective of your skin tone. 

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I am a technologist with years of experience with Apple and wearOS products, have a BS in Computer Science and an MBA specializing in emerging tech, and owned the popular site AppleToolBox. In my day job, I advise Fortune 500 companies with their digital transformation strategies and also consult with numerous digital health startups in an advisory capacity. I'm VERY interested in exploring the digital health and fitness-tech evolution and keeping a close eye on patents, FDA approvals, strategic partnerships, and developments happening in the wearables and digital health sector. When I'm not writing or presenting, I run with my Apple Watch Ultra or Samsung Galaxy Watch and closely monitor my HRV and other recovery metrics.

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