A report from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman sheds new light on one of Apple’s most secretive projects: non-invasive glucose monitoring for the Apple Watch. In fact, the report says that the project has been researched within Apple for more than 12 years—going back to the end of the Steve Jobs era and years before the release of the first Apple Watch.
Many companies and academic institutions have been working on ways to reliably measure blood glucose levels without piercing the skin for decades. More than half a billion adults in the world have diabetes, and the ability to measure blood sugar without breaking the skin can change their lives. In addition, the measurement can provide useful data for those who want to improve their health and fitness, even if they do not have diabetes.
The project apparently has “hundreds” of engineers working on it as part of the Exploratory Design Group (XDG) within Apple, where it goes by the project name “E5.” Before becoming part of that group, the project was spun off by a secretive Apple-owned startup called Avolonte Health LLC that appears to have nothing to do with Apple. The first work began in 2010 when Apple acquired a startup called RareLight.
Apple’s method uses a process called optical absorption spectroscopy. Lasers emit specific wavelengths of light into the skin at the points where substances exit the capillaries. The light is absorbed by the glucose and reflected back to the sensor, where an algorithm then determines a person’s blood glucose level.
According to Bloomberg’s report, Apple has tested the system on hundreds of people over the past decade, including non-diabetics, prediabetics, and diabetics, comparing its results with traditional blood sampling methods. After several recent “major milestones,” the project is now considered to be in a “proof of concept” phase.
Don’t expect the Apple Watch Series 9 to feature this technology when it’s introduced in the fall–or even next year’s rumored Apple Watch X. Previous devices are sitting on a table, and researchers is now working on a smaller version roughly the size of an iPhone that can be strapped to a person’s bicep. It still has a long way to go before it shrinks to a level where it can be included in the Apple Watch.