AirPods could monitor respiratory rates pretty reliably using just breath audio

AirPods and other wearable devices with built-in microphones could provide pretty reliable measurements of the wearer’s respiratory rate using just their breath audio.


  • AirPods and other wearables can measure respiratory rates
  • This can be accomplished by analyzing breath audio
  • Such readings aren’t 100 percent accurate though

An exploding view of an AirPod Pro showing the internals of the earphone

Using breath audio to measure respiratory rate

The respiratory rate is the rate of your breathing. People suffering from conditions that require their respiratory rates (RR) to be measured and monitored would typically need to make an appointment with their doctor, then drive to a specialized respiratory center where they would get hooked up to advanced sensors to monitor and record their respirator rates.

Choosing whether iPhone or Apple Watch registers steps in the Health app

But in the future, people might be able to use everyday wearable devices, like the AirPods earphones, to measure their respiratory rates by taking advantage of breath audio. Though not 100 percent accurate, these readings could then be easily shared with your doctor.

A new research paper published in the Machine Learning Research section of Apple and Cornell University’s says wearable devices with built-in microphones can monitor breath audio to calculate a user’s respiratory rate to assess their overall health and physical fitness. Remote estimation of respiratory rate could be “a cost-effective method to track disease progression and cardio-respiratory fitness over time,” it reads.

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Data in this study was collected from 21 individuals using near-field headphones with built-in microphones before, during and after strenuous exercise. Respiratory rates were then manually annotated by counting audibly perceived inhalations and exhalations.

The research paper does not disclose the headphone model used in the study.

Sleeping respiratory rate coming to Apple Watch with watchOS 8

One of the new features Apple introduced in watchOS 8 is the ability to track your respiratory rate while sleeping. As mentioned, this number basically tells you how many breaths you took per minute while asleep. As a rule of thumb, an adult person takes between twelve and twenty breaths per minute when awake and motionless, but it drops when you take a nap.

How to use sleep tracking on Apple Watch

Values higher than normal could be reason to pay a visit to your doctor as this could hint at problems with lungs, sleep apnoea and other issues. Your sleeping respiratory rates are logged by the Health app and can be found under Browse → Respiratory → Respiratory Rate.