AirPods Could Detect Your Respiratory Rate by Listening to You Breathe, According to New Study

AirPods Could Detect Your Respiratory Rate by Listening to You Breathe, According to New Study
Image: iStock/Avid Photographer

Wearable fitness devices are increasingly focused on new health benefits. Both the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch have advanced enough to gather data on all sorts of medical conditions. But one device you may not have pinned as a health tracker is Apple’s AirPods.

A new study published on Apple’s Machine Learning Research page shows how researchers can potentially measure respiratory rate through the microphones of devices like the AirPods or AirPods Pro.

Respiratory rate can be used to determine a number of things about a person’s health. As the study’s abstract explains:

“An individual’s RR can change due to normal activities like physical exertion during exercise or due to chronic and acute illnesses. Remote estimation of RR offers a cost-effective method to track disease progression and cardio-respiratory fitness over time.”

To determine this researchers used short audio segments gathered from healthy adults after they had conducted physical activity. Data from 21 individuals was used and collected via microphone-enabled near-field headphones.

The respiratory rate was manually counted by researchers listening to the inhales and exhales of participants on the recordings.

The study also established a multi-task Long-Short Term Memory (LTSM) networked with layers to “process mel-filterbank energies, estimate RR in varying background noise conditions, and predict heavy breathing (greater than 25 breaths per minute). The multi-task model performs both classification and regression tasks and leverages a mixture of loss functions.”

In conclusion, the research found that audio can be a viable signal for passively estimating respiratory rate, which would potentially be more cost-efficient than traditional health methods.

This is just one study that has been conducted into whether microphone audio can measure respiratory rates, so it’s still far from conclusive.

However, Apple has been incredibly proactive in the research field, particularly when it comes to finding ways for its wearable devices to become more health efficient.

It may have taken some time to arrive in Australia but Apple’s smartwatches are now capable of ECG heart monitoring features. The company has also supported studies at various institutions into whether the Apple Watch is capable of predicting a COVID-19 diagnosis based on heart rate and sleep tracking.

Equipping AirPods and its other audio devices with health monitoring features seems to be the next logical next step in Apple’s health and fitness rollout.