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Fitness trackers of the future may not be worn — they may just watch you on video

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AKZ / 123RF
Video cameras may be able to read your heart rate without any extra accessories as early as next year. Panasonic recently demonstrated Contacts Vital Sensing during a private show in Tokyo, a software that can estimate heart rate just by analyzing video from any camera — even a webcam.

The program analyzes the change in the way the skin reflects light. According to Nikkei, a Japan-based technology analysis company, blood absorbs light, but just how much light the blood reflects changes with heart rate.

The software measures how that skin reflection changes and uses that data to estimate a heart rate. Panasonic didn’t say how accurate the software is at measuring heart rate, but said any visible skin, including a face, can be used to estimate heart rates.

The software could add a unique angle to sports broadcasting by estimating an athlete’s heart rate, but Panasonic is also looking into the possibility of using the program to determine if a driver is a about to fall asleep, as well as other commercial applications.

While the idea of monitoring a heart rate simply through a video may sound far-fetched, Panasonic isn’t the only company to take this same approach. Startup Oxehealth announced late last year a similar program that could measure heart rate from a video using subtle skin changes they called “microblushes” — and clinical studies showed the system was actually just as accurate as standard medical equipment.

Panasonic’s software could be available commercially as early as 2018 and in multiple different applications, the company said. While Panasonic’s first suggestion is sports broadcasting, action camera manufacturers are already working to integrate heart rate integration into their feeds, such as GoPro’s collaboration with Polar fitness trackers and the Garmin VIRB’s sensor based heart tracking. Unlike those options already on the market, however, the software could potentially do all that tracking without a physical sensor.

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