Using The iPhone’s Front-Facing Camera, Cardiio Measures Your Heartrate

It’s still relatively early in mobile health, although there are glucose monitors that can be tacked onto iPhones, heart rate and sleep monitoring apps and of course, plenty of exercise and diet-tracking products.

Now that many basic product concepts have been laid out, it’s time for iteration. Enter Cardiio, a startup and graduate of the Rock Health incubator. Founded by a team of Ph.Ds out of MIT’s Media Lab, the company has built a $4.99 heart rate monitoring app that doesn’t require you to touch the iPhone’s camera. It actually doesn’t require any contact aside from holding the phone so that the front-facing camera captures your face. From that, Cardiio’s sensors can pick up minute changes in the color of your face that indicate heart rate.

“We can measure the amount of light reflected across your face,” said co-founder Ming-Zher Poh. “The more blood that flows into your face, the more it absorbs light. This is reflected off your face every time your heart beats and the camera is actually good enough to pick it up.”

In a few tests of my own, it matched the resting pulse I was able to pick up by counting my heart beats for one minute. It is in some ways reminiscent of Azumio, the Silicon Valley-based biofeedback startup that’s raised funding from Founders Fund, Accel and Felicis. But the difference is that with Azumio’s heartrate app, you have to touch your finger to the iPhone’s camera. Azumio’s heart rate monitor also picks up heart rate from color changes in your finger.

Like other heart-rate monitoring apps, Cardiio does long-term tracking so you can see how your resting heart rate has changed over the past month or more. It also can compare you to the population average.

Right now, the team behind the company is just two people and they have initial funding from Rock Health. They’re holding off on raising more funding until they can prove traction.

Long-term, the company wants to expand out to measuring other types of biofeedback. “Our long-term vision is a contact-free and software-based approach of measuring information about your body,” Poh said.