A new rumor suggests that Apple’s AirPods could have future utility as a health tracking device. The speculation comes after the publication of a report from Apple’s Machine Learning Institute, in which the company’s researchers tracked the wearer’s respiratory rate using the microphones that come embedded in an unspecified set of Apple earphones.
In the study, the researchers discovered that those microphones could listen to and track each breath that the wearer took during physical activity, data that could in turn be used to calculate that person’s respiratory rate. Twenty-one people were examined during the study, which looked at their respiratory rate before, during, and after exercise. The study also used simulated background noise to evaluate the performance of the system in a range of indoor and outdoor settings.
It’s unclear if Apple plans to release the feature to the public, though Apple watchers have speculated that it could be a feature of the AirPod 3, which could arrive as early as September. However, the feature does seem to take advantage of existing technology, so Apple could potentially bring it to existing AirPod products through a software update.
In addition to fitness tracking, the respiratory detection feature could be used to help track the progression of a disease that affects a person’s breathing. It could be combined with ambient light sensors and accelerometers to deliver a set of AirPods that could read blood oxygen levels and record someone’s movements in real time. That data could then be integrated with the Apple Fitness Plus app to provide users with more insights into their performance.
Of course, Apple prognosticators have long speculated about the possibility of a biometric AirPod. Prior Apple patents have hinted at the possibility of body temperature and heart rate monitors, as well as EKG and ICG sensors. Some of those features could enable biometric authentication.