When we talk about health and technology, we normally focus on newer gadgets like wearables. But newer isn’t always better, as one group of researchers discovered when they used an aging Pixel 4 to test for neurological illnesses using only the phone’s selfie camera.
Although the Google Pixel 4 series was plagued by several difficulties, it appears that researchers have discovered at least one use case for its Face Unlock feature.
The IR sensor, probably one of the nicest features of the smartphone, is being used by a team from the University of California San Diego (UC SD) to identify indicators of Alzheimer’s disease.
Professor Edward Wang’s DigiHealth Lab at UC San Diego investigates how ubiquitous technology such as cellphones might be utilized to track human health.
The idea is that by creating digital health products that work on more common devices, they would be able to reach more people, particularly those who cannot buy the latest wristwatch or fitness technology.
Face Unlock System in Google Pixel 4 can detect Alzheimer’s
Face unlocking was made possible using this sensor in conjunction with a Dot projector. The same sensor is now used to record a person’s pupil reaction to certain tasks, allowing researchers to detect cognitive deficits.
The Verge spoke with one of the team’s researchers, who described how everything works. The researchers identified human eyes, especially the pupil (the black spot in the center of the eye), as a measure for identifying Alzheimer’s disease – a disorder in which brain cells die, leading the patient to lose memory.
The researchers used an app to record the pupil’s responses to various activities, which allowed them to discover cognitive deficits. These deficits were determined by the pupil’s performance on those specific activities, such as recalling a sequence of randomly uttered numbers.
The software can detect limitations by utilizing the IR sensor used by the Google Pixel 4 for face unlock. The researchers used an infrared sensor because these cameras are better than normal cameras at identifying the difference between eye color and pupil size. After capturing the student’s responses to specified activities, the data is forwarded to the UCSD DigiHealth Lab for analysis by academics.
Alzheimer’s disease cannot be cured, although it may be managed. It is evident that a smartphone feature will not be able to replace expensive equipment particularly developed for diagnosing Alzheimer’s, but studies like this can provide a cost-effective approach to give physicians a head start on therapy.