Why Rockley's new alcohol and glucose tracking could land on Apple Watch

"Clinic on a wrist" sensor revealed by key Apple supplier
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Rockley Photonics has unveiled a new wearable reference design capable of tracking a range of cutting-edge biomarkers – including alcohol, glucose trends and blood pressure.

The UK-based company, which was recently revealed as a major supplier to Apple, has called the device a “clinic on the wrist.”

It’s capable of tracking core body temperature, blood pressure, body hydration, alcohol, lactate, and glucose trends, which would make it a huge leap forward in terms of health tracking wearables.

Companies haven’t been shy about confirming their interest in cuffless and non-invasive blood pressure and blood glucose tracking. Both Fitbit (CTO, Eric Friedman interview) and Zepp Health (COO, Mike Yeung interview) have stated on record to Wareable that they’re pursuing the technology.

But it seems that Rockley – and by proxy Apple – could get there first.

The sensor module isn’t destined to go on sale to consumers, but is designed to demonstrate these cutting-edge health sensors. And it will be used “in a sequence of in-house human studies in the coming months," according to the company.

However, Rockley has stated its sensor technology is destined for consumer devices – and it has every chance of doing that. While few people had heard of Rockley Photonics until recently, company filings revealed it is a major supplier to Apple.


And that has prompted speculation that the Apple Watch could be the first to showcase Rockley-powered blood glucose and blood pressure monitoring. That may be too early for the Series 7, which is expected in September 2021, but odds on for future versions of the smartwatch.

So what makes Rockley Phototonic’s technology different?

It works using infrared (IR) spectrophotometers, which Rockley says “can detect and monitor a much wider range of biomarkers.” It says that’s more effective than regular green and red LED arrays, which reflect light from arteries to gauge heart rate flow and blood oxygen saturation.

“The sensor non-invasively probes beneath the skin to analyze blood, interstitial fluids, and various layers of the dermis for constituents and physical phenomena of interest. Such biomarkers have historically been measurable only by using bench-top equipment,” reads the company’s press materials.

Of course, we don’t have any evidence of the reliability of its readings – and it’s far from a consumer-ready device. But it looks to be a major milestone on the way to blood pressure and non-invasive glucose tracking – and something that seemed a big generational leap now seems ever closer.

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