Apple’s ubiquitous Ear Pods may someday do more than just provide private listening.
The smartphone and computing devices company has filed a patent for developing ear buds with biometric sensors that could be used to measure heart rate, blood volume, and respiratory rate, according to an article on imore.com. According to the article, portable electronic device users are increasingly interested in biometric tracking, which in turn requires biometric sensors to be close or even direct skin contact to measure biometric parameters. The burden of asking users to place sensors in direct skin contact makes it highly desirable for biometric sensors to be within a mechanism unobtrusive to the user.
According to the article, the patent provides details on how earbuds could be configured to include biometric sensors. One sensor could be pressed up against the tragus in the ear to take biometric measurements. For instance, a PPG sensor could illuminate a patch of skin to measure changes in light absorption of the skin. By measuring changes in the light absorption as caused by profusion of blood, the earbuds could measure heart rate, blood volume and respiratory rate.
In another scenario quoted in the article, the patent suggests a wired earbud electrically coupled to another earbud with an electrode can cooperatively measure different biometric parameters. For instance, the electrodes can be configured to measure the galvanic skin response (GSR) of a user, which can help determine the amount of stress being experienced by the user at any time. The patent also describes a scenario where the electrodes can be used to measure more detailed parameters of the heart, by taking the form of an electrocardiogram (EKG) sensor or an impedance cardiography (ICG) sensor.
The article noted that according to the patent, the sensors would be able to determine which ear the earbud has been placed in, and alter its operation accordingly.