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Google's new Project Ara phone module can track blood oxygen level

Google's special Project Ara team has developed and is currently testing a module that is capable of measuring blood oxygen levels.

Published onNovember 8, 2014

Google Project Ara Large

As technology advances, the amount of functions now possible with a smartphone is slowly becoming somewhat mind boggling. Smartphones are naturally still “phones”, but our now mini supercomputers are commonly used on a more regular basis to track other aspects of our lives, including schedules, meetings, accessing emails, reading books, listening to music, watching movies, playing games, getting directions, reaching fitness goals, and so much more. With the recent addition of having heart rate monitors directly integrated into some Android and IOS devices (not to mention apps that offer this function), it’s safe to say that using our phones to track our health is becoming increasingly common. But while heart rate monitors are starting to become “standards” with particular flagship devices, Google’s Project Ara team has taken things to the next level, and has developed a module that can actually track your blood oxygen level.

What is Project Ara?

If you haven’t heard about Project Ara, it’s something that Google/Motorola is currently working on that could be a gamechanger for smartphones of the future. To put it briefly, Project Ara is a modular phone that’s unlike any smartphone you have seen, as it basically contains components or modules that can be interchanged and exchanged/replaced, as shown here:

Google’s plan is to provide the skeleton of the device (simply put, a glorified motherboard) and for developers to create and sell modules. For example, instead of upgrading your phone because you want a more powerful camera, you simply purchase a 4k camera module for your device, and switch it out. You could even in theory borrow and swap modules from friends, allowing you to truly customize the actual hardware of your device in seconds. Need more RAM or storage? Swap in some more. A newer version of Bluetooth perhaps? Only a few clicks away.

According to Google, any module can be developed in a way to give, take, or store power, meaning in theory, the potential for a huge variety of modules and components used for customizing your phone is very realistic.

Pretty neat stuff.

Impact on the health industry

Paul Eremenko, who works as Google’s technical lead for Project Ara, recently demonstrated a newly developed module that can read blood oxygen levels by simply touching a sensor located on the module. The module demonstrated is actually a prototype of what’s called a pulse oximeter, which is used to track the amount of oxygen that’s in the blood.

While it’s currently only a prototype, it’s a pretty big step that demonstrates the potential that smartphones could have on the health industry. In just a few short years, patients with health issues could monitor their own body in ways that were never before possible outside of a doctors office. While they most likely will never (well, not anytime soon) act as a true substitute for the much more expensive equipment that doctors use, they could certainly be beneficial in monitoring a sickness or particular condition.

One factor that could push the potential of what Project Ara can do is if the medical industry engineers behind the equipment in doctors offices and hospitals started developing modules directly for this device. While this is purely speculation at this point, the potential is definitely there to do big things.

Project Ara release date

While no release date is currently set in stone, Paul did comment that “we do intend to do a consumer pilot later in 2015″, with an announcement from Google expected in January at the Project Ara developer conference.

What do you guys think of Project Ara and the possibilities it introduces? Do you think it could catch on in the market if properly developed? Let us know what you think about it in the comments below.

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