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This tiny sensor could bring blood pressure monitoring to wearables

Published Jan 13th, 2021 10:40PM EST
Blood Pressure
Image: Valcencell

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  • Photoplethysmography (PPG) sensor maker Valencell announced a new sensor that can measure blood pressure with a simple touch.
  • The device collects blood flow data, inertial data and combines it with the subject’s physical characteristics to determine blood pressure readings. Valencell says the algorithm offers comparable results with traditional blood pressure measurement devices.
  • Valencell is pursuing FDA clearance for the tech, which might find its way into various wearable devices.

The tiny device next to the quarter in the image above is a photoplethysmography (PPG) sensor made by Valencell. The company has developed a technology that allows wearable devices to measure various parameters, including heart rate and blood oxygenation. The sensor above has a different purpose, one that we might soon see in actual products. The new Valencell PPG sensor might bring cuffless blood pressure monitoring features to future wearables.

Hypertension is a medical condition that comes with age, impacting a large percentage of the population. Aside from the drugs needed to keep one’s blood pressure in check, patients should regularly monitor their blood pressure to ensure that the treatment is working as intended. There are plenty of devices that can measure blood pressure accurately, including gadgets that connect to your phone to record the data. But they all use the same process. You have to put the cuff on, press a button, and then wait for the readings to come up on the screen.

Valencell conducted a survey and found out that 62% of Americans with hypertension measure blood pressure a few times a month or less instead of the twice-daily recommendation. But more than 75% of the respondents would measure it “much or much more” often if they could do it passively in the background with smart devices.

Valencell is proposing exactly that, a much simpler solution that would require no work from the user, aside from wearing a smartwatch, smart band, or some other gadget that can equip the PPG sensor above. As long as the sensor comes into contact with the skin, whether it’s the ear, finger, or wrist, it can automatically register blood pressure readings. And that sort of feature could turn out to be life-saving.

The Apple Watch is now famous for the life-saving stories that come from users. The device can detect abnormal heart rates, atrial fibrillation, and accidental falls. But the Apple Watch can’t measure blood pressure. Apple is developing its own blood pressure tech for the wearable, according to some patents.

Valencell explained in a press release that its sensor collects PPG data from the blood and inertial sensor data and combines it with physical characteristics of the subject (age, weight, gender, and height). An algorithm will then estimate blood pressure readings. According to the company, the results are comparable with readings from regular blood pressure cuffs and manual blood pressure devices. Valencell says its tech is “the first commercially available embedded sensor solution to enable BP readings throughout the day with the same accuracy as current BP cuff devices without the need for a cumbersome cuff.”

Valencell is pursuing FDA clearance for the technology in early 2021 before we can see it in wearable devices. It’s unclear when and what sort of gadgets will be the first to incorporate the new Valcencell blood pressure sensor.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.