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For several years now, Apple has been operating a top-secret health and fitness lab somewhere within the confines of its campus in Cupertino, California. Earlier this week, the notoriously secretive iPhone maker offered a small group of reporters a peek inside the workings of its state-of-the-art facility.
Apple’s director of fitness Jay Blahnik revealed that the secretive lab has already amassed more than 33,000 hours of biometric data, using Apple employees who have been secretly volunteering as test subjects. Blahnik believes it’s likely the largest trove of fitness data in the world.
He also disclosed that the facility employs 13 physicians and exercise specialists, in addition to 29 nurses and medics. It’s also the largest purchaser of 50 metabolic carts, which are used to track the oxygen consumption of Apple engineers, managers, and even security guards as they perform various kinds physical activities– including cycling, swimming in the lab’s endless pool, rowing, running, and yoga. Sometimes, all they do is sit around in the gym, which also yields helpful fitness insights.
“One day you might show up and we’ll study how many calories you burn while you sit, because we need to understand that, too,” Blahnik said, according to the MIT Technology Review.
Apple built the lab several years before the Apple Watch’s release in 2015 in order to test and refine fitness-tracking algorithms for its wearables. At the time, however, even the employees were unaware that they were wearing the yet unreleased Apple Watch.
“[The employees] knew they were testing something, but they didn’t know it was for the Apple Watch,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior vice president of operations to ABC News. “We hooked them up with all the masks and so forth, but we would put on an Apple Watch covered up.”
Back in 2015, Blahnik also revealed that the lab has “climate chambers” that recreate various environmental conditions in which to trial the watch’s functions. For good measure, Apple even sent employees to the extreme climes of Alaska and Dubai to test the Apple Watch.
During this week’s demo, Apple presented the Apple Watch’s upcoming fitness capabilities, which have been developed both by Apple as well as third-party developers. One noteworthy feature, dubbed GymKit, wirelessly syncs the Apple Watch with exercise gear, such as a treadmill, to track your workout. This feature will be available along with Apple’s upcoming WatchOS 4 in the fall, though it’s unclear when GymKit-compatible fitness equipment will be released.
Beyond wearables, it’s reasonable to assume the data it has collected from its multi-million dollar gym lab will somehow factor into Apple’s Health app on iOS and HealthKit framework. Apple’s foray into the health sector, where the company has already generated a significant amount of speculation and excitement about its potential to change the way medical research is conducted.
On that front, where Apple has been slowed by strict regulatory controls, Blahnik was more tight-lipped, and only conceded that there were other projects his team was working on: “Certainly there are things that take much longer that we haven’t spoken about”, he said.