Earlier this month, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple for Beats Earphones. The patent reveals new health sensors that are being considered for these earphones. One of the inventors of this patent is Duy Le, Apple’s Senior Product Design Manager for Beats products. He has been with Apple for over 8.5 years with no history returning to Beats, according to his LinkedIn profile.
The history of Apple working to bring biometric sensors to AirPods dates back to 2015 when they filed the patent that was published in 2017 in our report entitled “Apple continues work on future sports-oriented AirPods with biometrics and noise reduction.” Apparently, noise interruptions first came on the market with AirPods last year.
Our patent report from 201
Apple’s patent states that a device that is well suited for attaching an earphone to the user’s ear is a key design feature for earpieces intended for use during exercise or other active activities. However, when safety mechanisms make the earplugs uncomfortable to wear, the user will not get the maximum amount of benefit from the earpieces, as it will be more difficult to use the earplugs for a longer period of time, thus negatively affecting the user experience. For example, a securing mechanism that presses the earpiece against sensitive parts of the ear can cause significant pain to a user that for a long time makes extended use of the earpiece unmanageable.
One solution to this straightforward problem is to optimize the design of the earphone so that a holistic shape of the earphone matches as many internal functions in the user’s ear as possible.
Apple’s patent FIG. 1A below shows an iPhone working with wired or wireless Beats earphone; FIG. 1B shows an earphone placed in a user’s ear.
Apple’s patent continues to delve deeper into the design and ergonomics of the earphones with the ear hook design that provides a superior grip on the ear so that a user is able to perform a workout without fear of the earphones easily falling out of the ears.
New sensors for Beats earphones considered
Where there is a patent infringement away from the design elements, Apple reveals that a future version of the Beats earphones may be equipped with new sensors that are in the earpiece as mentioned in FIG. 7 above as area # 706.
In an Apple press release in 2019, they stated: “The two most important health sensors in the Apple Watch Series 4 are an enhanced PhotoPlethysmoGram (PPG) and, for the first time in an Apple Watch, an ECG.” Apple is currently working on a miniature version of this system for the Beats earphones.
Under patent FIG. 7, Apple states that sensor # 706 in some embodiments may take the form of a photoplethysmogram (PPG) sensor. A PPG sensor uses a pulse oximeter to illuminate a skin spot and measure changes in the light absorption of the skin.
The pulse oximeter may include one or more light emitting devices and one or more light collecting devices. In some embodiments, the light emitting device may be in the form of a light emitting diode (LED) and the light collecting device may be in the form of a photodiode to measure the changes in light absorption.
The changes in light absorption can be caused by the abundance of blood in the skin during each cardiac cycle. Because the abundance of blood in the skin can be affected by several other physiological systems This type of biometric monitoring system can provide many types of biometric information.
By capturing waveforms associated with the cycle of blood to the skin, several biometric parameters can be collected, including e.g. heart rate, blood volume and respiratory rate.
By using LEDs that emit different wavelengths of light, additional data can be collected, for example VO.sub.2 max (ie maximum oxygen absorption rate in the body).
By arranging the sensor # 706 in the imaged position with respect to the cab (# 704), the sensor can be placed near the user’s ear, thereby allowing sensor readings performed by a pulse oximeter.
In some embodiments, the sensor may be in the form of a core temperature sensor.
Other embodiments of the sensor include embodiments therein the sensor is in the form of an electrode. When the earplug is a wired earplug that is electrically connected to another earplug with an electrode, the electrodes can cooperate to measure a variety of biometric parameters. In some embodiments, the electrodes may be configured to measure the galvanic skin response (GSR) of a user. A GSR can be useful in determining how much stress the user is experiencing at any given time.
In some embodiments, the electrodes can be used to measure more detailed parameters of the heart rate by when the electrodes are configured as an electrocardiogram (ECG) sensor or an impedance cardiography (ICG) sensor.
Apple patent application number 20200314518 was published on October 1 and filed back in September 2019 or one month before Apple launched AirPods Pro with active noise reduction.