The new features measure a person’s respiratory rate and heart rate using their phone’s camera. The respiratory tool works like a person taking a selfie. While posed in front of the camera, the software measures breathing by detecting small movements of the chest.
For the heart rate tool, placing a finger on top of the rear camera lens lets the software analyze subtle changes of color to the skin of the fingertip. Those color changes occur when blood flows from the heart to the rest of the body.
The features are coming to the company’s Google Fit app for exercising and fitness in the next month. They’ll first be released on Google’s flagship Pixel phones, then more widely to other Android phones in the next few months.
While biometric features come standard on several fitness trackers, Google said it wanted to make those tools available without the extra hardware.
“It turns out that relatively few people in the US, let alone the world, actually have wearables,” Jack Po, product manager for Google Health, said during a briefing with reporters. “So one of the things that we really focused on was trying to get it on the most ubiquitous device that’s probably available, which is of course the cellphone.”
Still, Google has invested heavily in wearable hardware to catch up to the success of the Apple Watch. Last month, Google said it closed its acquisition of fitness tracker pioneer Fitbit, a $2.1 billion deal that was mired in antitrust scrutiny around the world. Regulators have worried that Fitbit’s biometric user data would further entrench Google’s lead in targeted digital advertising. Google has said it won’t use the data for ads.
A Google spokeswoman said the company won’t use data from the respiratory and heart rate features for ads, either.
Google said it tested the features with people from different backgrounds, health statuses and skin tones. The company said it will share its findings in coming weeks and is currently seeking publication in a peer-reviewed journal.