Google Pixel 4 helps diagnose Alzheimer’s

Google Pixel 4 helps diagnose Alzheimer's

The Pixel 4 wasn’t a huge hit for Google, falling short of the company’s expectations. The smartphone, which is now almost three years old, is now celebrating its comeback in research. US scientists have succeeded in using the Pixel 4 to diagnose Alzheimer’s.

A research team from the DigiHealth Lab at the University of California San Diego is using the Google Pixel 4 to detect Alzheimer’s early in patients and enable rapid treatment. In this way, the symptoms of the neurological disease can at least be slowed down. A UC San Diego graduate student explained in one Video interview with The Vergehow exactly the Pixel 4 is used in diagnosing Alzheimer’s.

The important role of the infrared camera

As graduate student Colin Barry explains, eyes are an important metric in detecting Alzheimer’s. The pupils in particular play a major role here. Recording pupil responses to various tasks performed by a patient allows researchers to identify cognitive impairments. The infrared camera of the Google Pixel 4, which Google actually intended for face unlocking, helps here.

As Barry explains, an infrared camera is better than a regular camera at capturing the dilation and dilation of the pupil. Especially in people with a dark brown iris, a normal camera has difficulty distinguishing between the iris and the pupil – an infrared camera is much more precise.

How to diagnose Alzheimer’s with the Pixel 4

Researchers at UC San Diego have programmed a special app to diagnose Alzheimer’s with the Pixel 4. After launching the app, users must look directly into the Pixel 4’s infrared camera through a privacy screen with one eye. Then they have to solve a cognitive task, for example, in the video, The Verge editor has to repeat a sequence of numbers.

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As he solves the task, the app records the reactions of the pupil. Unfortunately, the data cannot be evaluated directly on the smartphone, but must first be sent to the laboratory. Although this is a bit cumbersome, it is much more practical compared to the normal diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, explains Barry. Normally, a so-called pupillometer is required for the diagnosis, which costs around 10,000 dollars. The high price is a hurdle for many clinics.

Of course, the Pixel 4 can’t replace this medical meter, but it’s a cost-effective alternative. The research team at UC San Diego is currently still checking whether measurements with the Pixel 4 are accurate enough to be able to make a reliable diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

Would the diagnoses also be possible with other smartphones?

Interestingly, the Pixel 4 is currently the most suitable smartphone for diagnostics, since infrared cameras are rarely used in smartphones. Google has done without the feature since the Pixel 5 and the IR camera is no longer used in Samsung devices either.

iPhones are currently the only smartphones that are regularly equipped with IR cameras. Here, however, iOS is a problem. Since the operating system is mostly closed, it would be extremely cumbersome for the scientists to get access to the infrared camera with their app.