Much has been made recently of Apple’s (NSDQ:AAPL) interest in medical technologies, especially surrounding the rumored iWatch that Apple has yet to confirm or deny, but the tech giant has been looking at healthcare devices for years.
Apple patents for everything from speech recognition programs to motion-based sensors include a nod to potential healthcare applications, and the company has several sensor patents that could provide data on heart rate, respiration and other medical data.
Another such patent from 2010 describes a "smart garment" that could include physiometric monitoring, with art describing a running shoe with sensors that can provide feedback on a user’s physical activity. Another patent describes sensors that can be used in a sort of "watch" for patients in health centers, for parents who want to remotely monitor infant health and activity and for shoe-based weight-sensors.
Tech blogs and news sources have been awash with rumors and speculation about the coming of an iWatch, an Apple-branded smart-watch that is rumored to include biosensors and health monitoring capabilities. The company has been nabbing up experts from various medical device companies, including former Masimo (NSDQ:MASI) chief medical officer Michael O’Reilly, who accompanied Apple workers to a suggestive meeting with FDA officials late last year.
Apple has been characteristically tight-lipped about its plans, but its patent activity suggests that the company has been interested in working with medical technology for years. A patent filed in 2006 and last updated earlier this month described personal media devices that communicate wirelessly to provide users with helpful content, including a food rewards system that captures motion and pulse information to "reward a user with the option to eat normally restricted food (e.g., dessert) if it is determined that the user has earned the reward."
Another patent filed in February 2013 and issued last month describes a "personal items network" that wirelessly couples a plurality of "sensing systems monitoring applications" that include health, medical and fitness monitoring.
"An [event monitoring device] of the invention can practically attach to almost anything to obtain event information," according to the patent description. "By way of example, an EMD of the invention can attach to patients to track health and conditions in real time and with remote monitoring capability."
The device, envisioned variously as a clip-on device or a stick-on sensor that looks like an adhesive bandage, could potentially monitor everything from heart rate, stress characteristics, temperature and other parameters. One form of the device could monitor heart rate and breathing via a microphone, and Apple even makes mention of a watch-like device for use in medical settings.
"Data may be captured by a receiver such as a watch to display the data to the wearing user. Monitor can also be used in patient monitoring applications, such as in hospitals, so that patient health is monitored remotely and efficiently," according to the patent documents. "By way of example, a monitor may be attached to each critical care patient so that a facility (e.g., a hospital) can monitor each patient at a single monitoring location (i.e., at the location receiving signals)."
The same patent mentions baby-monitoring via sensors that stick to the skin and provide patents with data on movement and respiratory and heart rates.
"Device preferably relays a warning event data to alarm monitor within seconds of detecting trouble with the infant," according to patent documents. " For example, if device detects the absence of heart rate or breathing, the alarm at monitor is made in near real time."