Author(s): Raghu Gopal
Last week, MediaTek unveiled its Sensio six-in-one biosensor module for smartphones. The company claims the solution will allow users to quickly check and monitor their physical wellness on a smartphone. MediaTek boldly bills its module as a "personal health companion in your pocket".
Sensio monitors six health data points: heart rate, heart-rate variability, blood pressure trends, peripheral oxygen saturation (a measurement of oxygen levels in the blood), electrocardiography (ECG) and photoplethysmography (PPG), which is a measurement of variations in blood volume.
The module is intended to be embedded directly into smartphones, removing the need for multiple sensors to collect health-related data on an ongoing basis. It will enable device manufacturers to develop proprietary applications or exploit third-party applications.
Some of these healthcare features aren't unprecedented. Samsung Galaxy phones, for example, have adopted certain health sensors for the past few generations, allowing users to monitor their heart rate and oxygen saturation. However, MediaTek's integration of ECG and PPG is a unique offering. Sensio uses LEDs together with a light sensitive sensor to measure the absorption of red and infrared light by the user's fingertips. Touching a device's sensor and electrodes with a fingertip creates a closed loop between the heart and the module to measure ECG and PPG waveforms.
MediaTek's new biosensor is an indication of a future trend. We expect wider market adoption of such advanced integrated health sensors into smartphones. Unfortunately, for the time being, this is unlikely to be a solution for wearables. MediaTek said its Sensio solution will be available to hardware partners in early 2018.
We caution that, although the term "health" is used liberally in the company's press release, components such as this do not enable the creation of medical-grade healthcare devices. This is a product for casual use, to offer indications of well-being and device makers will need to make this clear. However, despite the legal and regulatory distinction between health and wellness, this is a bold announcement and a promising sign of things to come.