Now, here’s another one (see “Paging Dr. MacGyver” below) of those ‘gee whiz’ things that slightly boggles the mind even as it leaves us wondering where new technologies will take us next.
You see, it seems that every time our hearts beat, the increase of blood volume under our skin results in our complexion darkening at an imperceptible rate. Well, imperceptible to the human eye, anyway, and that’s where the gee whiz kicks in. As it turns out, not only can that difference be spotted by a sensitive camera, it can even be spotted by the basic front-facing camera in your average iPhone or iPod Touch, and some enterprising folks at the MIT Media Lab decided to create an app to do just that.
Available for free (at time of writing, though there are charges for extra features), Cardiio simply asks the user to stare at the center of the stethoscope and hold still for a few seconds while if fixates on your flashing face. The result pops up as soon as it’s done, and the measurement can be saved in case you want an ongoing record of your heart rate. There are also little tidbits like comparisons of your heart rate to other examples (apparently my resting heart rate is 19 percent lower than the average Tanzianian, and 2 beats higher than Rafael Nadal), a guided 7-minute workout, and prediction of your life expectancy (though you’ll have to pay for that last one, and let’s face it, there’s more to that question than your resting heart rate).
Accuracy is rated to within 3 beats per minute, and my own testing against fingers and a second hand seemed pretty much bang on. That’s not to say it’s foolproof however, Stuart, our mascot at the upper left of this page, was rated at 58 bpm, which we have to admit, means he’s in much better shape than we thought he was. (Either that, or perhaps the camera was reading the cycling of the store’s fluorescent lighting.)
But still, take a moment to think about what we have here, and the worlds opened up by the creative freedom of Apple and Android apps. You can bet that when Steve Jobs was touting the first iPhone and its built-in camera, he wasn’t thinking it would be used as a touch-free stethoscope, and we can only imagine (speaking of mind boggling) what other people are working on for do-it-yourself friendly platforms like these. (Meanwhile, some rumours for the ‘iWatch’ not only predict pulse-oximetry, but even blood pressure measurements – though I have no idea how they’ll do it.)
Does all this technology set your heart to racing? Download Cardiio and find out.