Apple will study if a sensor on its new Apple Watch is capable of monitoring early signs of Covid-19 in a tie-up with medical researchers.
The Apple Watch Series 6, which the tech company unveiled on Tuesday, features an oxygen monitor that uses LEDs to measure the light reflected back from blood.
Blood oxygen levels are typically used as a measure of fitness and heart health, reflecting how well red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Apple said it would also investigate whether the indicator as well as the Apple Watch's heart rate monitor, could be used to detect early signs of influenza and Covid-19.
It said it was working with Seattle's Brotman Brady Institute for Precision Medicine and the University of Washington on the study, although the company did not say if it planned to introduce a detection system into the Apple Watch, depending on the study’s results. Separate studies will assess if the monitor can manage asthma or heart failure.
The Series 6, which costs £379 and up, allows wearers to manually check blood oxygen levels, by taking a measurement that lasts a few seconds. It will also periodically monitor oxygen levels in the background.
Blood oxygen readers, or pulse oximeters, have been seen as a potential early way to check for Covid-19. Typically, the device, which costs between £20 and £40, fits on a fingertip or earlobe for a measurement. Falling below 95 per cent blood oxygen is seen as a warning sign. Apple says its monitor would measure levels between 70 and 100 per cent. The British Lung Foundation says that a change in oxygen level may mean a deterioration in lung conditions.
Apple said clusters of green, red and infrared lights, combined with light-sensitive diodes on the back of the watch, combined with algorithms, meant it could compensate for variations in skin to take accurate readings.
It also announced a cheaper smartwatch, the Apple Watch SE, which does not have the oxygen sensor. It unveiled a feature called Family Setup which lets parents monitor kids if they have an Apple Watch but not an iPhone, following their location and determining who they can text.
The latest version of the Apple Watch software features a mode that measures if the wearer has been washing their hands for 20 seconds.