Google Fit already has plenty of ways to tell you that you're out of shape — a common issue during the ongoing pandemic. But it's picking up a new way to measure both your heart rate and respiratory rate, using just your smartphone's camera. The feature is expected to land next month, and though it's a Pixel-exclusive to start, it should be coming to other Android phones later.
Beyond simple utility, the features are honestly pretty impressive when it comes to the overall "geek factor" behind how they work, and we can't wait to try it for ourselves. The respiratory rate monitor works by aligning your face and upper body in certain positions for the front-facing camera, in a way that allows it to track the movement of your chest down to the pixel level to determine how quickly or slowly you are breathing.
The heart rate monitor is even more fascinating. Again, it uses your phone's camera, but this time tracking tiny changes in the color of your fingers to determine your heart rate. That's actually a thing, and it turns out the camera in a smartphone is precise enough to measure these very small differences. If, like I did when I heard the news, you try to stare down your own hands to spot this color change, you probably won't be successful — the so-called "pulsatile photoplethysmographic signals" are usually too minute for our eyes to pick up.
This isn't just some startup special hacked-together machine learning model, either. Google has done clinical studies to validate their accuracy for real-world conditions, and it works with a wide variety of skin tones, ages, and lighting.
There's no word on when this feature might land on other phones, but Google expects to start rolling it out for Pixels starting next month — maybe as part of the expected March Pixel feature drop.