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Google Fit update turns your Pixel phone into a wellness tracker

Google is retrofitting Pixel smartphones with the ability to measure heart rate and respiratory rate, without the need for an additional fitness tracker or sensor.

Google says a Google Fit update will measure these vital signs using only the on-board camera, initially on Pixel phones with plans to expand the feature for more of the best Android phones.

The respiratory rate, which is the number of breaths in and out per minute, is measured simply by placing your head and upper torso within the selfie camera frame. The camera can detect small changes in the movement of your chest in order register the breaths.

Heart rate is measured simply by placing the finger on the rear-facing camera lens. Google says subtle changes in the colour of the finger enables it to capture the number of beats per minute. We’ve seen this feature offered by many smartphones before using the camera flash, but Google is integrating it into the lens itself.

In a blog post explaining the new tech, Google says: “We developed both features — and completed initial clinical studies to validate them — so they work in a variety of real-world conditions and for as many people as possible. For example, since our heart rate algorithm relies on approximating blood flow from color changes in someone’s fingertip, it has to account for factors such as lighting, skin tone, age and more in order to work for everyone.”

Google says the measurements aren’t a replacement for medical diagnoses, but they will be handy for users who’re looking to spot health trends and improvements over time. Google says measurements can be saved within the Google Fit app alongside all of the other data captured.

The company adds: “With continued advances in hardware and software, sometimes the device that could be most helpful to your health and wellness is already in your pocket. Our team of researchers, engineers, and clinicians are exploring how everyday devices and inexpensive sensors can give people the information and insights they need to take control of their health.”