Apple Supplier Rockley Unveils Wearable Health-Monitoring Tech

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Silicon photonics technology company Rockley Photonics has unveiled a health monitoring solution that it is calling a “clinic-on-the-wrist” digital health sensor system. Through the technology, which uses a miniaturized chip that provides continuous, noninvasive monitoring of core biomarkers, Rockley expects to be able to overcome the key challenges associated with mobile wellness monitoring.

Many wearable consumer electronic devices use green light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to monitor heart rate. Rockley said its infrared spectrophotometers can detect and monitor a much wider range of biomarkers, which, could dramatically increase the functionality of wearable devices. The central and differentiating element of the sensing system, Rockley said, is a noninvasive sensor module based on Rockley’s spectroscopy technology. Unlike more common spectroscopy solutions that use broad-spectrum light sources, Rockley’s sensor module generates a large number of discrete laser outputs from a single silicon chip covering a broad optical band.

The sensor noninvasively probes beneath the skin to analyze blood, interstitial fluids, and various layers of the dermis for constituents and physical phenomena of interest. Such biomarkers have historically been measurable only by using bench-top equipment.

Reverse side (skin side) of wristband The standalone sensor module containing photonic ICs and application firmware (shown on the right). Courtesy of Business Wire.
Reverse side (skin side) of wristband; the standalone sensor module containing photonic ICs and application firmware (shown on the right). Courtesy of Business Wire.
Rockley’s sensor module and associated reference designs for consumer products integrate hardware and application firmware to enable wearable devices to monitor multiple biomarkers, including core body temperature, blood pressure, body hydration, alcohol, lactate, and glucose trends, among others. Its full-stack sensing solution features a wristband that contains the sensor module and communicates with custom cloud-based analytical engines via a Rockley smartphone app. The wristband will be used in a sequence of in-house human studies in the coming months.

Moreover, Rockley’s architecture is designed to deliver several milliwatts of optical output power per wavelength channel to achieve the high signal-to-noise ratio required for signal analysis from a small wearable.

“We believe that combining machine learning algorithms with continuous monitoring of an extended set of biomarkers from accessible wearable devices will provide new actionable insights to enhance and transform digital health care,” said Andrew Rickman, CEO and founder of Rockley Photonics. 

Planning to become a publicly traded company, Rockley entered into an agreement with the publicly traded special purpose acquisition company company SC Health Corp. in March. In a document (Form S-4) filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in April, Rockley listed Apple as its largest customer. The revelation led to speculation from outlets covering Apple that the technology company could aim to use Rockley sensor technology in future iterations of its consumer smartwatches and electronic products.

It is widely rumored that the Apple Watch Series 7 may include technology for measuring blood sugar levels in a noninvasive way, as well as body temperature. Outlets covering Apple technology have not definitively confirmed or denied that the new feature will be included in the Apple Watch.

In a press release introducing its “clinic-on-the-wrist” system, Rockley said it is initially targeting the consumer electronics market, and will also actively pursue the application of its technologies with leading medical device companies. The wristband will be used in a sequence of in-house human studies in the coming months.

Published: July 2021
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