Google Pixel, Fit App Will Use Smartphone Cameras To Track Heart And Respiratory Rates

Google says its heart rate tracker is accurate to within 2%, while the respiratory tracker can measure one breath per minute.


Android maker Google is adding heart and respiratory rate monitors to the Google Fit app and Pixel smartphones, a report by The Verge said. According to the report, the company will be tracking the rise and fall of a user’s chest to determine their respiratory rate. For heart rate, it will track how the colour changes as blood moves through your fingertips. Both features will use smartphone cameras and are aimed at providing more wellness information for users. Like most fitness and wellness features today, this comes with the disclaimer that the features aren’t meant to diagnose medical conditions. They will also be coming to other Android phones later.

How it works

The respiratory rate measurement happens using the front camera. Users will have to open the Google Fit app and point the phone’s front camera at their chest and head. The camera then monitors how your chest rises and falls. The rise and fall will of course be more vigorous when you’re working out or doing other exercises, and uses algorithms to determine the respiratory rate from this. 

On the other hand, tracking heart rate will require users to place their finger over the rear camera of the device. Both features use machine learning (ML) algorithms to determine the heart or respiration rate. As The Verge points out, the heart rate monitor is similar to a feature Samsung used on the Galaxy S10 earlier, but dropped for the S10E, S20 and other smartphones.

Is this better than fitness devices?

Technically, the feature wouldn’t be as accurate as wearables and other fitness devices, which in turn weren’t as accurate as professional grade trackers in the first place. So, Google is likely enabling it just to provide more health related information, just like Apple does with its blood oxygen monitor and ECG on the Apple Watch. The features aren’t meant to replace professional equipment, but instead provide a degree of authenticity to your workout and other exercise endeavours.

The respiratory rate tracker is apparently as accurate as one breath per minute for people who don’t have heart conditions. For heart rate tracking, the company’s internal tests have shown accuracy of within 2%, which is impressive if it turns out to be true.