Your Apple Watch Could Eventually Become a Complete BioMed Lab

5 minute read
| Particle Debris

Could augmented eyeglasses someday help us spot nasty viruses on public doorknobs? Could our wearables, in the form of an Apple Watch, someday provide a complete analysis of our blood? Predict a cold? Detect and diagnose a disease or illness? All that may not be far off.

Ceramic: More affordable than solid gold… 

The blood analysis laboratory of the future.

One of the features of modern tech is that projects that start off at a basic level and succeed almost always advance in ways that seem predictable and inevitable. This week, I want to focus on the practical, realtime benefits of a medical wearable that’s several generations beyond the current Apple Watch.

Here’s a good starting point via Jonny Evans. “Your Apple Watch is Going to Become Your Personal Physician.

Author Evans makes some great points, but I want to elaborate myself.

AI + Miniaturization = Future

I have noted recently that CBC blood tests that used to require sending blood to a distant lab with big machines can now be done in a doctor’s office on a machine the size of a large bread box in just a few minutes. How long until your Apple Watch is able to conduct a complete, non-invasive, blood analysis?

I mention this because I’ve read about a technique that allows for the measurement of blood sugar in a person’s sweat. If that can be done, there may be ways in the future, not yet envisioned, to get even more detailed information about the blood non-invasively. And, therefore, create a very thorough profile of a person’s health.

Early on, some of this technology may start off as larger equipment in the home. That equipment transmits information about blood measurements to our iPhone for analysis and integration into other health data. But, I think, eventually, the “blood lab” will move into the wearable itself.

Taking this a step further,  Siri or an IBM/Watson-like AI analysis of all that data could lead to the elimination of general practice physicians. Only when we need surgery would we have to visit a specialist. And that specialist will be a very precise, very competent AI robot.

Your Apple Watch tells you your pulse today, but a lot more is coming. “If we can dream it, we can do it.” (Walt Disney.)

Next page: The news debris for the week of January 16th. An Apple invasive maneuver.

8 Comments Add a comment

  1. I like the idea of a “lab on your wrist”. That would be the sort of thing that would get me to get an AppleWatch.

    You mentioned the CBC Blood Test. Sorry but I immediately wondered why the Canadian Broadcasting Company needed blood tests.

    Yes that iTunes thing would be bloody annoying. However I just can’t believe Apple would ship it like that. Even THEY have to know that sometimes people are offline. This had to be a beta glitch that won’t appear in the final product.

  2. MacFrogger

    The fact that your perspiration has the same glucose concentration as your serum has been known for a long time, and the idea of developing a watch that monitors glucose concentrations non-invasively based on this was first pursued by a start-up co (Cygnus) in Redwood City CA many years ago. It was specifically targeted towards diabetics for obvious reasons – who wants to prick themselves with a lance to get enough blood to do a glucose test? I know all this because a good friend worked there – they even successfully launched a product called the Glucowatch. It has since been discontinued for reasons that I don’t know; you can read about it here: http://www.mendosa.com/glucowatch.htm

    Of course that’s all the Glucowatch did – with new tech and miniaturization, I’m sure it could be done more effectively and with a much smaller footprint. The Glucowatch did require consumables (enzymes)…

  3. MacFrogger

    And of course measuring the oxygen level of your blood is easy – when the hemoglobin in your red blood cells has oxygen bound to it, it is distinguishable spectroscopically from hemoglobin that does not have oxygen bound to it. There are already commercial devices out there that exclusively perform this function, and integrating this tech into a watch should be relatively easy.

  4. Regarding the iTunes fiasco, I see two scenarios for this to have happened. A similar problem has occurred with the new (improperly named) iOS TV app from Apple (which replaced the Video app).

    1. Apple believes that users have purchased ALL their audio and video content FROM Apple. So, in order to verify that the audio or video you want to play is legally yours, Apple has to check that you have purchased it (from Apple). Of course, that requires an Internet connection. (The iOS TV app actually has the reverse problem. You have to disable Wi-Fi and Cell networking to view your non-Apple purchased videos, unless you have changed the “media type” of the videos in iTunes.) Of course, Apple is wrong in this belief. I get most of my audio content from archive.org. That audio (old time radio shows like “X Minus One”, “The Lone Ranger”, “Jack Benny”, etc) is in the public domain.

    2. Apple software quality assurance is failing to perform its job.

    I suspect that #2 is the reason for this most recent iTunes mess. It is also probably the reason behind the iOS TV app mess. As more evidence of the failure of software quality assurance I offer the recent iOS Garageband update. Version 2.2 was released on 19 January and 2.2.1 on 20 January. That is just sloppy. Apple’s software quality has deteriorated in recent years and Apple should be embarrassed. The hardware quality of Apple products remains generally high (with the exception of the Time Capsule, which Apple has now killed), but that quality is the responsibility of many companies, not just Apple. Apple alone is responsible for the quality of its software.

  5. RonMacGuy

    Why does it have to be non-invasive? I’d be OK with a sensor or two under my skin or, perhaps, even deeper, that my Watch can connect with (securely, of course) that can detect medical issues or provide data that is more accurate and reliable than hoping I sweat enough for my Watch to pick up. Well, maybe… until Google hacks it from a passing android phone and starts to send me emails about dialysis equipment that I may need down the road…

    🙂

  6. John:

    Of the themes you’ve chosen for this week’s PD, I find two most intriguing, namely the Apple Watch as a medical device (shockingly), specifically a bio-med lab, and second the interplay between robotics and AI, specifically the capacity of a robot to refuse a human command.

    You, and other writers at TMO like Bryan Chaffin and Jeff Gamet have, on several occasions, addressed the topic of the Apple Watch and health, specifically the role of sensors to monitor specific health indicators, and several comments have followed, including from yours truly, outlining both specific technical issues and longterm, high level vision pieces of where this will lead. I don’t intend to restate those here. Rather, I’d like to address the issue raised in the Matthias Scheutz piece about robots saying ‘No’ to a human command and expand that to the issue of technologies, like the Apple Watch and robotics writ large that can have a direct effect on human safety and address the role and imperative of manufacturers of those technologies to also say ‘No’ at the appropriate time.

    A core concept in the Matthias Scheutz piece is the question of context. Merely giving a robot a command such as ‘throw the ball through the window’ requires context, such as whether or not the window is open or closed, or whether there would be broader safety concerns, like traffic outside the window that the ball could negatively affect; context that a human would use, before deciding whether or not it is ethical or safe to obey the order. This is not easy to programme and raises an oddly related issue, namely that of the oft-quoted, ‘With great power comes great responsibility’, not simply for the device but more importantly for the creator and/or manufacturer of the device. Simply because something can be built, is it safe, ethical or even moral to build it today? The context here is not the technology, which might already exist, but the safety of the human user and that of society more broadly.

    Before we build more capable robots en masse, like self driving cars, or additional sensors in our wearables, like those that can monitor health parameters that people will rely on to serve and to protect them, that decision must guided by the protection and safety of the human first. An example or two might be illustrative. Imagine a self driving robotic car that could be remotely hacked, started and told to drive through the garage into your living room, use its forward camera and infrared sensors (newly installed for enhanced HUD night driving) to locate anything with a heat signature, identify a specific individual and run them over. Far-fetched? I think not. Remote take over of automobiles has already been demonstrated and security patches post production have had to be installed at a cost. Security systems will need to be hardened and multiple redundant safety subroutines in-built before robotic cars will be a safe technology for mass rollout. How about new sensors in the Apple Watch, like one that can monitor blood sugar, as an example? All sensors have a calibrated uncertainty, characterised by what we call ‘confidence intervals’, that is, a range within which the true value resides. Due to the technical limitations of that sensor, the range will be greater at the extremes, meaning that the value displayed to the human could be markedly different than ‘the truth’. No matter how often Apple, or any manufacturer, might warn people that this is not meant to be a ‘medical device’, should that range be too great to qualify as a medical device, people will still use it as such, because just like the camera in your iPhone vs a DSLR camera, the best camera is the one that you have on you when you need it. Diabetic wearers, when seeing that, most often when their blood sugar is in the normal range, the Watch gives a similar reading to their dedicated medical device, will come to rely over time on their AW, and may be lulled into a false sense of security when their sugars are abnormal and their Watch is not accurately telling them just how abnormal it is due to the uncertainty and limitations of the sensor. It will happen. Ask any ER doc.

    Let me cite another hackneyed expression, ‘You’ve got to crawl before you walk, and walk before you run’, a citation often belied by toddler behaviour, but I digress. We now live in an age in which, as our technology becomes more capable, particularly technology that relies on AI, including one as simple as SIRI, it begs the ethical question of whether that technology should be publicly available if it lacks sufficient capacity either to be used responsibly or, in the case of AI, to make responsible decisions that will protect the human user. Not only manufacturers, but consumers will need to accept either more simplified, less capable versions of these technologies or forego those technologies altogether, until these more capable technologies can be safely deployed, and will accommodate not simply inevitable lapses in human judgement, but will be reasonably hardened against malicious intent, however defined by regulators.

    In short, until those technologies can reliably assume the responsibility that matches the power with which we invest them, we, the human makers and consumers, must retain the responsibility to delay their adoption until they are safe.

  7. Adding to wab95’s comments, imagine Samsung wanted to release a self-driving vehicle or a robot, and wanted to beat Apple (or another manufacturer) to market. Would they wait until it could “be safely deployed, and will accommodate not simply inevitable lapses in human judgement, but will be reasonably hardened against malicious intent?” Regulation must be required to prevent safety flaws.

    I’ll be relieved if robots and robotic cars are required to have a simple human override that disables them when necessary.

Add a Comment

Log in to comment (TMO, Twitter, Facebook) or Register for a TMO Account