Archive for November 18th, 2011

Now the iPad can measure your vital signs

November 18, 2011

How excited do you get playing with your iPad? Would you give up your lunch hour to spend a few precious moments staring into its ten inches of LCD loveliness? Philips thinks there are plenty of us who would, and they have developed the VitalSigns app to provide us with an excuse – if we feel we need one.

You place your iPad on a table, set the app running and then just look at the screen. The iPad’s camera tracks tiny colour changes in your face – undetectable to the human eye – and equates them to heart rate. It also detects the movement of your chest to calculate how fast you’re breathing.

The disclaimer says that the app is strictly for fun – you can email the results or post them to Facebook or Twitter – and that readings are not intended for diagnosis or clinical monitoring or decision making. While this may sound a trifle strange, in the wider world the app is part of an emerging trend of self-measurement. There is, according to a recent article in MIT Review, a growing movement of ‘self trackers’ – fitness fanatics, geek obsessives and the genuinely ill – who are using an array of new gadgets to obtain near-constant feedback on their health. Building on techniques used in sport and hospital intensive care wards, these devices allow the user to monitor, record and analyse different health-related functions.

Of course we shouldn’t be surprised. Smart meters that report back details of our energy use are now old news, even if we haven’t quite got round to installing them yet. The Philips device and similar self-tracking systems are just part of the first wave of technology that feeds data back to us.