‘Universal virus detector’ is chapter 21 of Insights from the Future, a book I’m writing about technology, innovation, and people … from the perspective of the future. Subscribe to my newsletter to keep in touch and get notified when the book publishes.
November 5, 2022
Today Apple is launching a free wearable universal virus detector that can analyze blood, breath, urine, and stool samples to provide near-instant insight on health and wellness. Included out of the box is detection of more than 500 viruses known to have human health impacts, including SARS-CoV-2, widely known as Coronavirus, which caused the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 that killed over 500,000 people globally.
“This is a game-changer for both personal and global health,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a statement. “Now people can instantly and continuous know that they’re safe in the face of accelerating global pandemics. And, with the anonymized collection of data, regional and national health authorities can get good data on the health of their populace.”
The new iHealth device is free and is designed to be worn much like a piece of jewelry on a necklace. It does, however, require a $10/month subscription to be useful.
The universal virus detector can also be clipped on to a belt loop or simply carried in a purse or pocket.
iHealth virus detector: how it works
The iHealth virus detector looks pretty much like a standard white iDevice out of Cupertino. It’s about the size of a deck of cards, but when you push almost-hidden areas on the upper surface, detection ports open. One is designed to be breathed into. Another accepts collector strips with urine or stool samples, or swabbed mouth and nose specimens.
And yet another reveals a pinprick blood collection device that almost-painlessly samples venous blood for analysis.
Once the iHealth device has captured a sample, it tests for the presence of any known viruses. Weekly updates from national and international health organizations update the hardware with new virus definitions regularly. While there’s little on-board intelligence, iHealth connections to your Apple iPhone where the iHealth app uses advance Apple machine learning algorithms to identify any health issues and weed out false positives.
“In most cases, iHealth will give you the green light in just a few minutes,” Cook said. “If there’s any cause for concern, iHealth will notify you and automatically book an appointment with your doctor on file. You’ll be able to send the data to your doctor securely so he or she can determine any needed next steps.”
Currently, the device is iOS only. Apple says an Android app for compatible phones will be available in “a few months.”
Sharing data with friends, colleagues, strangers
One option in that app: sharing your health status with almost anyone you choose.
Just like Family Sharing plans, you can share status with a spouse or family members continuously. You can also opt to share status with colleagues or friends on a one-time or regular basis. And, for situations like large public spaces or major events, the app can be set to broadcast an “OK” signal to any querying device, enabling public health officials or event organizers to screen out potentially infectious people.
“We were originally planning to release this device next year for $499,” Cool says. “Ultimately, the threat of another pandemic persuaded us to release it now, for free.”
“We cannot have another global pandemic like Coronavirus,” WHO executive Bertie James said. “This and other devices like it will help prevent both the loss of lives and economic collapse due to pandemics.”
iHealth is available today for pre-order online and in Apple Stores.
Again, this is a chapter of Insights from the Future, a book I’m writing about technology, innovation, and people … from the perspective of the future. Subscribe to my newsletter to keep in touch and get notified when the book publishes.