Cardiio uses iPhone camera sensor to get your heart rate on the go

There’s no question your iPhone camera does a pretty good job capturing photos on the go. But can it capture your heart rate? Cardiio, the new digital health app we covered earlier this year from the Rock Health accelerator program, is ready to release a mobile app that uses the iPhone camera sensor to detect your heart rate from the amount of light reflecting off your face.

It sounds too incredible to be true, but co-founders and spouses Yukkee and Ming-Zher Poh said the product has been peer-reviewed in scientific publications and produces results that come within 3 beats per minute of those from a clinical pulse oximeter, the medical standard Cardiio would compete with. A clinical pulse oximeter measures both heart rate and blood oxygen saturation levels through direct contact with the skin and an LED light source, Ming-Zher explained. The Cardiio app, in contrast, works remotely and uses ambient light around the user.

The company explains how the technology works on its site:

Every time your heart beats, more blood is pumped into your face. This slight increase in blood volume causes more light to be absorbed, and hence less light is reflected from your face. Using sophisticated software, your iPhone’s front camera can track these tiny changes in reflected light that are not visible to the human eye and calculate your heart beat!

Users can download the paid app for iPhone or iPad in the Apple iTunes App Store beginning on Thursday for $4.99. After a user downloads the app, they hold the iPhone or iPad up to their face in a well-lit area, hold steady for a few seconds, and receive their resting heart rate. Users can save the number to the app, tracking their progress over time and measuring the impact of stressful life events on their heart rate.

The app does not currently have FDA approval, meaning it couldn’t be used in hospitals or doctor’s offices, only by consumers in the health and wellness space, Ming-Zher said. But as the creators of a connected toothbrush learned, FDA involvement in health-related apps or products can be an unknown factor.