Saturday 10 September 2016

Apple Airpods - a new health sensing platform?

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Apple Airpods have just been announced, many customers are questioning the high expense, removal of the traditional 3.5mm headphone socket and how easily Airpods might be to get lost.

Here is the Apple video explaining the Airpods.

These could be much more than music headphones however. 

The Airpods contain an infrared sensor, accelerometer, microphone  and possibly  other sensors, this could provide a brand new wearable hardware platform for health and medical sensing. For example core body temperature, maybe heart rate detection. The accelerometer could be used for head position sensing e.g. head nods "yes" or shaking "no". This could be very useful for some applications.
Head accelerometers have also been used to measure concussion in sport, e.g. football.
The Airpods will use bidirectional  digital communication, so could not use the old analogue 3.5mm  socket.  At least with Bluetooth, if you drop the Airpods, you can find them if location within a few metres, the iPhone will show nearby Bluetooth devices.

Image below from Apple of inside an Airpod.

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 We can see the infrared sensor, the dark cylinder in image, possibly a  thermopile which allows none contact temperature sensing, e.g. of the human body in seconds.  Here an example of a thermopile from Texas Instruments. It is the small reflective semiconductor, U5, size 1.8mm x 1.8mm.

Below shows a thermal image of an ear, revealing the core body temperature, a healthy 38C. The colder blue is the outer ear. This image taken with an array of 80 x 60 thermal sensors.

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  Passif designed the custom wireless semiconductor. More here about Passif technology.  An interesting patent from Passif in this Fast Company article describes an energy harvesting system from radio waves.

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Apple own the earliest patents on a mobile phone with infra red  human proximity detection,  and accelerometer control.  I invented and built  a handheld computer  design in 1997, the first phone that used these sensors. The patent was purchased by Apple in 2011 as here, patent for Apple.