Apple recently filed a new patent that could lead to a future iteration of the popular AirPods earphones equipped with more than one biometric sensor.
This could potentially add to Apple’s growing focus on biometrics for authentication, security, and health.
Filed on October 3rd, 2019, with the US Patent and Trademark Office, and quite similar to a patent filed last year, the application outlines a system in which two different biometric sensors are built into earbuds, allowing their users to measure a number of health-related metrics.
The patent describes ‘positioning a biometric sensor along an exterior surface of the earbud so it can be placed in direct contact with a portion of a user’s ear during use of the earbud.’ It goes on to describe how, by using a light sensor known as a PPG to shine light on a portion of the user’s skin, the sensor can measure ‘variations in the reflectivity [that] can be used to characterize profusion of the blood through the skin of a user.’
Information gleaned from a PPG sensor can be used to measure the changes in the way skin absorbs light, which in turn could measure heart rate and blood volume.
There also appear to be plans to include a second sensor that would be capable of detecting which ear the earbud was placed in and adjust the sound accordingly, eliminating the need to keep track of the ‘L’ and ‘R’ markers indicating left and right.
Perhaps more interesting is mention within the patent of using a pair of biometric sensors in a wired earbud format as electrodes which ‘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.’
Mention of a wired format suggests that perhaps Apple may not plan to include these sensors in a future version of their popular wireless AirPods headphones and that we may be looking forward to an entirely new health focused pair of earbuds. It’s also possible that as with many patents this technology may never actually find its way to market.