What you need to know

  • Apple patent published today reveals earbuds with biometric sensors.
  • Could be used to measure heart rate, blood volume and respiratory rate.
  • Earbuds could be interchangeable between ears.

A patent filed by Apple and published today has revealed how Apple is exploring the use of biometric sensors within earbuds.

The background of the patent states:

Portable electronic device users have shown increasing interest in biometric tracking. Biometric sensors often need to be in close or even direct contact with the skin to properly measure and track biometric parameters along the lines of heart rate, VO.sub.2, and core temperature. Requiring a user to place a sensor in direct contact with the skin to track these types of biometric data can be overly burdensome, making adoption of the biometric tracking more difficult. Consequently, mechanisms for unobtrusively measuring biometric parameters are highly desirable.

The patent details how earbuds could be configured to include biometric sensors. One of these sensors could be pressed up against the tragus in the ear to allow the taking of biometric measurements. One such sensor could be a PPG sensor, which uses a pulse oximeter to illumate a patch of skin to measure changes in light absorption of the skin. Such a sensor can measure changes in the light absorption as caused by profusion of blood, allowing the earbuds to measure heart rate, blood volume and respiratory rate. With a slight variation to the light emitted, it could even measure VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen absorbed by the body).

The patent also states:

When the earbud is a wired earbud electrically coupled to another earbud with an electrode, the electrodes can cooperatively measure a number of different biometric parameters. In some embodiments, the electrodes can be configured to measure the galvanic skin response (GSR) of a user. A GSR can be useful in determining an amount of stress being experienced by the user at any given moment in time. In some embodiments, 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 sensors within the earbud, according to the patent would also be able to determine which ear your earbud has been placed in, and alter its operation accordingly.

So there you have it, Apple could one day release earbuds that could measure your blood volume, heart rate, VO2 max, respiratory rate and stress.

The full patent is available for your perusal here.