A report from Mark Gurman at Bloomberg sheds new light on one of Apple’s most secretive rumored projects: non-invasive glucose monitoring for the Apple Watch. In fact, the report says that the project has been researched within Apple for over 12 years–back to the end of the Steve Jobs era and years before the release of the first Apple Watch.
Several companies and academic institutions have been working on ways to reliably measure blood glucose levels without piercing the skin for decades. Over half a billion adults in the world have diabetes, and the ability to measure blood sugar without breaking the skin would be life-changing for them. What’s more, the measurement could provide useful data for those looking to improve their health and fitness, even if they don’t have diabetes.
The project apparently has “hundreds” of engineers working on it as part of the Exploratory Design Group (XDG) within Apple, where it simply goes by the project designation “E5.” Prior to being a part of that group, the project was run out of a secret Apple-owned startup called Avolonte Health LLC that appeared to have nothing to do with Apple. The first work began back in 2010 when Apple acquired a startup called RareLight.
Apple’s approach uses a process called optical absorption spectroscopy. Lasers emit specific wavelengths of light into the skin in areas where substances leak out of capillaries. The light is absorbed by glucose and reflected back to the sensor, where an algorithm then determines a person’s blood glucose level.
According to the Bloomberg report, Apple has tested the system on hundreds of humans over the past decade, including those without diabetes, prediabetics, and diabetics, comparing its results to traditional blood-drawing methods. After several recent “major milestones,” the project is now considered to be at a “proof of concept” stage.
Don’t expect the Apple Watch Series 9 to feature this technology when it is introduced in the fall–or even next year’s rumored Apple Watch X. Past devices have sat atop a table, and the researchers are now working on a smaller version roughly the size of an iPhone that could be strapped to a person’s bicep. It still has a long way to go before it is shrunk down to a level where it could be incorporated into the Apple Watch.