Although Google’s Pixel 4 series was a failure, we’re almost three full generations behind it and the hardware is still around. The Pixel 4 and its face unlock cameras are being utilized to advance medical research for disorders like Alzheimer’s, even if we think it should receive more software updates.

THE PIXEL 4’S CAPACITY TO DETECT ALZHEIMERS Researchers at UC San Diego’s DigiHealth Lab are investigating methods to test for conditions like Alzheimer’s disease in a simple and widespread manner. The most recent method, led by Professor Edward Wang , is to use Google’s Pixel 4 camera (per The Verge ).

According to The Mayo Clinic , there are around 6 million people over the age of 65 in the US who have Alzheimer’s disease, which can be a devastating neurological condition. Alzheimer’s patients experience severe memory problems that eventually make it impossible for them to go about their daily lives.

However, early Alzheimer’s diagnosis can influence treatment by delaying the onset of symptoms.
Because of this, the ability to utilize a smartphone, like the Pixel 4, to identify Alzheimer’s disease could be quite significant.

The researchers behind this initiative explain that our eyes, and more specifically the pupil of your eyes, are a metric for identifying Alzheimer’s in a video interview with The Verge. Researchers and scientists (or in this case, an app) can determine cognitive impairments depending on how your pupil does during those tasks by monitoring how they respond to various tasks.

The software uses the IR cameras that Google uses for face unlock to accomplish this on the Pixel 4. This is done because, as can be seen below, IR cameras are more effective than normal cameras that deal with the visible light spectrum at distinguishing between differences in your eye color and the pupil in particular.

By raising their eye to the camera and taking a memory test, the software assists users in testing their own students. The app takes a picture of the student and sends that information back to the lab; it does not immediately display the results. Although it’s not precisely practical, it’s important to keep in mind what it’s replacing.

In a video posted by The Verges, a researcher said that this kind of measurement is often performed in a clinical facility under carefully monitored conditions using specialized equipment that may cost as much as $10,000. The Pixel 4 won’t take the place of that gadget, but the goal of this project is to determine whether it is practical to use data gathered by a smartphone at home that doctors may use to determine whether additional testing is necessary.

ANY OTHER PHONE BE CAPABLE OF THIS? The challenging aspect of this study right now is that IR-capable phones like the Pixel 4s don’t truly fulfill the criteria of ubiquitous. Google only used IR cameras on the Pixel 4, dropping them on the Pixel 5 and more recent Pixel 6 because those phones did not support face unlock. When Samsung removed the bezels around screens, it also stopped using the IR cameras that it had previously employed.

Apple’s iPhone is now one of the only smartphones that makes extensive use of infrared cameras, and it does so for the same function as the Pixel 4: face unlock. A third-party software, like the one being used by the researchers, cannot access that hardware due to iOS’s locked-down design.

THE OPPORTUNITIES ON OUR SMARTPHONES ARE MANY AND LIKE THIS This use case in particular hasn’t been fully tested, but it’s just one more illustration of how much we can do with smartphones in the healthcare industry. Looking at Google in particular, there’s a lot the firm has accomplished in terms of getting helpful health information using only the most fundamental components of our devices.

Google Fit introduced the ability for Pixel devices to detect a user’s heart rate with just the camera sensors, no wearable necessary, last year.

Google also earlier unveiled a tool that would enable users to quickly identify any skin problem by taking a picture of it; the tool can identify approximately 300 conditions.

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