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The Apple Watch’s Heart Monitoring App Gets Smarter

The Apple Watch's heart rate monitor may soon be able to warn of AFib and other health problems

1 min read
Apple added functionality to the Apple Watch's heart rate monitoring app
Photo: Apple

Apple announced today that the company is updating the heart rate monitoring software in existing Apple watches so that they gather and display more information. This short statement, delivered amid two hours of hardware and software announcements, packs a huge amount of potential.

Jeff Williams, Apple chief operating officer, described the new features, explaining that enhancements to the heart rate app include: correlating heart rate and accelerometer data to calculate a wearer’s standard resting heart rate; monitoring recovery time, that is, how long it takes after an activity for the watch wearer’s heart rate to return to its resting state; and alerting the user when the app detects an elevated heart rate at times when other sensors are not picking up physical activity—a potential sign of trouble.

The app will also monitor heart rhythms, Williiams said. In a pilot study with Stanford Medicine set to begin later this year, the heart rate app will notify users of heart rhythm problems such as atrial fibrillation, or AFib, a common heart rhythm problem that can be asymptomatic until it leads to complications.

These enhancements represent just the tip of the iceberg with respect to what can be done with continuous heart rate monitoring. John Rogers, a pioneer in wearable electronics, and his team at Northwestern University will be launching a large study involving expectant mothers in January. Rogers and his team will use continuous heart rate monitoring via an MC10 BioStamp to gather heart rate and heart rate variability data. With appropriate data analytics, Rogers says, the researchers will be able to get clues pointing to psychological stress of the type that is known to have adverse effects on the gestational period. When stress levels are high, the subjects will receive alerts advising them to take preventive action, he says.

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
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A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic
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Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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