News Feature | March 14, 2016

Next-Gen Apple Watch Could Be Emergency Alert Device

By Suzanne Hodsden

apple patent
Image courtesy of USPTO, via AppleInsider

Apple may be looking to leverage its watch’s sensor technology and communication capabilities into an emergency alert system, according to recently filed patents. In the event of a car accident, heart attack, or even a mugging, the watch would detect changes in the wearer’s condition and automatically alert family members and emergency services.

The patent, which was originally filed in September 2014, described a system capable of interpreting both environmental and user data, and then transmitting alerts concerning detected “care events” to cooperative devices, such as the iPhone or other medical devices, which would then transmit an alert.

For example, the accelerometer may detect a sudden change in speed indicative of a car crash and signal the iPhone to call 911, or the watch may detect changes in the vital signs of elderly patients and signal their caregivers. In the patent application, developers suggest some countermeasures to prevent false alarms, such as an audio prompt to ask if the user needs help.

Rumors circulating last year suggested Apple was looking to turn the Apple Watch into a “holistic monitoring device” incorporating a variety of healthcare-related functions, but those plans were pushed aside “due to technological and regulatory hurdles.”

AppleInsider pointed out that the Apple Watch is not cited in the patent specifically, but possesses the sensors and communication capabilities highlighted by the patent’s system requirements. The recent patent may signal that Apple is looking to revisit healthcare applications for the watch.

According to a recent report by Reuters, the FDA may prove to be more help than hindrance in the heated competition between tech companies looking to enter the healthcare sector, and a regulatory approval could give products a clinical edge with consumers and payers.

Apple CEO Tim Cook told The Verge last year that he was less interested in seeking FDA approval for Apple’s Watch technology because regulatory cycles lasted too long, but Cook said he wouldn’t mind submitting an application for “something adjacent” to the watch, such as an app.

Apple currently is working with Dexcom to develop a glucose-tracking app, to be used with the Apple Watch, and a cancer study recently launched by the MD Anderson Cancer Center will require patients to use Apple Watches to track their health data.

Apple will hold an event on March 21, 2016 to showcase next-generation technology for the iPhone, iPad, Apple Pay, and the Apple Watch, said Business Insider.

Related, Samsung recently introduced the Bio-Processor, an all-in-one health monitoring chip integrated with five sensors to track heart rate, temperature, body fat, skeletal mass and sweat. Already in mass-production, technology featuring the chip — which may include wristbands or patches — is expected in 2016.