Apple and Cornell University have published a new piece of research this week highlighting how researchers can estimate respiratory rate using breath audio obtained through wearable microphones such as AirPods and AirPods Pro. The paper was published by Apple and Cornell University researchers this month and spotted first by MyHealthyApple.

Apple explains that respiratory rate is a clinical metric that is used to assess overall health and fitness. It can change based on a variety of factors, including exercise and chronic acute illness. Traditionally, patients are required to visit their healthcare provider for respiratory rate tests and analysis, but the research from Apple and Cornell University aims to discover a way to remotely estimate the metric.

In the research, Apple and Cornell researchers used a model-driven technology to estimate a person’s respiratory rate using short audio segments obtained after physical exertion in healthy adults. Data was collected from 21 individuals using microphone-enabled, near-field headphones before, during, and after strenuous exercise.

The study found that this audio can be a “viable signal for passively estimating” respiratory rates, also making it a more cost-effective way of doing so compared to traditional healthcare.

RR was manually annotated by counting audibly perceived inhalations and exhalations. A multi-task Long-Short Term Memory (LSTM) network with convolutional layers was implemented to process mel-filterbank energies, estimate RR in varying background noise conditions, and predict heavy breathing (greater than 25 breaths per minute). The multi-task model performs both classification and regression tasks and leverages a mixture of loss functions. It was observed that RR can be estimated with a concordance correlation coefficient (CCC) of 0.76 and a mean squared error (MSE) of 0.2, demonstrating that audio can be a viable signal for passively estimating RR.

Notably, the research comes as rumors suggest Apple has plans to add new health monitoring capabilities to AirPods Pro as soon as next year. Next year’s update to AirPods Pro is expected to bring new sensors to enable onboard fitness tracking. Apple VP Kevin Lynch also mentioned the possibility of using AirPods to “father different data” for health monitoring in an interview in June.

You can find more details and the full study on Apple’s Machine Learning Research website right here.

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