Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Apple Watch 6 may track blood pressure without a clumsy cuff

The Apple Watch 6 is expected to get more health-tracking features than the current iterations, but a new patent unveiled today suggests it could pack yet another capability: reading blood pressure.

While Apple Watches have been able to track heart rate for years, atypical blood pressure could represent persistent health conditions, like hypertension, which could either be a sign of more dangerous problems or expose wearers to more risk. Hypertension, for example, could increase a person’s risk of contracting COVID-19, per CNN.

While reading blood pressure typically requires an accessory like a compression cuff, the Apple-filed patent no. 10,646,121 describes how non-invasive blood pressure reading could be possible: by using applanation tonometry, a method optometrists use to measure pressure in the eye.

The patent details what this might look like, including a series of electrodes on a wearable device (presumably, an Apple Watch), and/or capacitive nodes along the watch band. While most of the possible configurations use capacitive pressure sensors, the patent notes that they could apply to other kinds – like piezoresistive pressure sensors that change form when pressure is applied – suggesting plenty of possibilities in measuring pressure and the ultimate method used.

In other words, Apple left a lot of room to decide which of these to implement, if any. Which makes sense: the patent was first filed in September 2016. While patents don’t necessarily mean features will certainly make it into devices, its publication on May 12, 2020 suggests that it could come in the Apple Watch 6.

A full health-tracking complement

The Apple Watch 6 is already poised to get several upgrades to its health tracking. The biggest is tracking blood oxygen levels, which could help wearers detect whether they’re suffering from sleep apnea. 

But combine blood oxygen tracking with heart rate monitoring and the Apple Watch 6 may be able to detect whether wearers are hyperventilating and, as analyst Jon Prosser predicted, instruct wearers to stop and calm down. Adding blood pressure reading to the mix could allow the smartwatch to track even more conditions and improve its ability to watch out for a user’s health.

Via Apple Insider

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