A recent patent from Samsung shows a very interesting new consumer health sensor product that could potentially hit the market in the coming years. (Spotted on my occasional searching of the @freshpatents twitter page)
The patent (United States Patent Application 20160256117 A1) published on the 8th of September relates to a pair of headphones or earphones with multiple built in light emitters and corresponding detectors. The detector-pairs read blood pulse signals at multiple points around the ear. Using this data and a stored blood pressure estimation algorithm, values for blood pressure are obtained.
"AbstractA method and apparatus for measuring blood pressure are provided. According to one or more exemplary embodiments, the apparatus for measuring blood pressure obtains a blood pressure value by applying a plurality of particular points, sampled at regular intervals from a pulse wave signal detected in an ear area of an object, to a pre-stored blood pressure estimation algorithm."
Blood pressure is a key health indicator and current upper arm cuff-type inflatable measurement devices can cause users discomfort and inconvenience. The proposed headphone devices can be used for real-time, prolonged monitoring of an individual's continuous change in blood pressure, which is a great improvement.
A potential downside to this technology and a fact that could be limiting in the commercial viability of these headphones, could be that the algorithm requires blood pressure values. Therefore it would need calibrating initially with standard upper arm blood pressure measurements. The technology is also very similar to current heart rate monitors, just with the addition of the blood pressure estimation algorithm.
Interestingly, articles surfaced online in 2014 about Apple developing similar earphone devices, but the source of this leaked Apple information later retracted his statement calling it a hoax.