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Although we’ve been hearing about Apple’s work in the more advanced areas of blood and heart rate monitoring for a while now, it turns out the company has also been quietly working on allowing its wearable to measure a user’s body temperature.
This tidbit slipped out earlier this week in a report from Bloomberg, and now a new patent application uncovered by AppleInsider reveals that Apple has actually been working on this technology since at least 2019.
A with most such filings, the application, which is titled Packaging and Technologies for Temperature Sensing in Health Care Products, doesn’t specifically mention the Apple Watch, although it makes several references to “wearable devices” so it isn’t hard to figure out what it’s talking about.
“Wearable health devices are increasingly integrating a broad variety of sensors to better monitor health status of users. With the development of packaging technologies such as system in package, embedded die, semiconductor very-large-scale integration (VLSI) technologies and so on it has become possible to develop miniaturized systems and devices. Skin temperature is one of the vital signs for patient’s health.”
More notably, however, it was filed back in late 2019, suggesting that Apple has been pursuing this line of research for at least that long, but clearly getting it right is more complicated than you might suppose.
Constant Temperature Monitoring
Like most of Apple’s health technologies, what’s most critical in Apple Watch sensors is getting accurate measurements. While thermometers are commonplace, there’s a difference between a device that’s designed to take a quick point-in-time temperature measurement and something that you wear on your wrist all day.
Not only does the Apple Watch have to ensure that it can take an accurate reading of your body temperature from the top of your wrist, but it also has to avoid being thrown off by other environmental factors, such as direct sunlight, humidity, and wind factors.
The patent application discussed two possible methods for building the sensor, which appear to differ only on where the sensor would be placed in the Apple Watch.
- One description talks about touch-based sensors that would live on the surface of the Apple Watch and be in direct contact with the wearer’s skin.
- The second set of descriptions conceptualizes “non-contact” temperature sensors that would be embedded within the Apple Watch.
In either case, the goal would be to provide constant temperature monitoring, rather than merely allowing users to get snapshots of their body temperature on demand.
It’s not hard to see how this could be an extremely helpful health metric for everyday use. The Apple Watch could, for example, detect the early onset of a fever or hypothermic condition, alerting the wearer to seek medical attention.
It’s also naturally something that would have been especially useful during the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers have been studying ways to use the Apple Watch to detect early signs of COVID-19, however these have mostly been confined to things like monitoring heart rate changes. A temperature sensor would almost certainly be extremely useful as an additional factor to take into account.
When’s It Coming?
Although we’ve heard that Apple is working on multiple new health sensors for future Apple Watch models, it looks like it may be far closer to solving the challenges of adding a body temperature sensor than it is for things like blood pressure and blood glucose monitoring.
Again, the key to adding any new sensors is getting as high of a degree of accuracy as possible. Apple has already had challenges with this for blood pressure monitoring, and accurate non-invasive blood glucose monitoring is a nut that researchers have been trying to crack for almost three decades. Even a company with Apple’s deep pockets and other resources isn’t going to solve this one overnight, and recent rumours suggest it’s still several years away.
Accurate body temperature monitoring, on the other hand, does seem like an easier thing to accomplish. Rumour has it that Apple was hoping to have it ready for this year’s Apple Watch Series 7, although it sounds like there’s a more than 50/50 chance it won’t come until the Series 8 model arrives next year.