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Apple is making significant strides in developing non-invasive blood glucose monitoring technology, which is intended to be a future Apple Watch feature. The technology would allow people with diabetes to test their blood glucose levels without the need for skin-prick testing.
According to a report from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, the Cupertino-based tech giant is working on a silicon photonics chip that will use optical absorption spectroscopy to shine a laser light under the skin and determine the concentration of glucose in the body.
The prototype device is currently sized similarly to an iPhone and can be attached to a person’s arm. This is a significant improvement on a prior version, which was much bigger and required a tabletop. TSMC developed the main chip to power the prototype, but Apple previously collaborated with Rockley Photonics to create sensors and chips for glucose monitoring.
Rockley Photonics in 2021 launched a digital sensor system that could monitor a range of health metrics, including glucose trends, body temperature, blood pressure, hydration, lactate, alcohol, and more. Rockley Photonics confirmed in regulatory filings that Apple was its biggest customer, but Apple ultimately ended the relationship.
Apple’s Exploratory Design Group (XDG) has hundreds of engineers working on the project, making it the company’s most secretive undertaking. The XDG is equivalent to Google’s X research and development project. Bloomberg reports that Apple has spent hundreds of millions of dollars developing non-invasive glucose monitoring, but the technology is still years off.
Apple started exploring alternative glucose monitoring in 2010 after purchasing RareLight, under the instruction of Steve Jobs. For several years, Apple worked quietly on the project with a startup called Avolante Health LLC in a secret facility before it was transitioned to the XDG.
Human trials have been underway for the past decade, with Apple using a test group of people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, as well as those who have not been diagnosed with diabetes. Apple’s goal is to alert people to the possibility of being prediabetic, enabling lifestyle changes before full-blown diabetes is developed. The company’s regulatory team is already in early discussions about getting government approval for the technology.