Apple's sensor experts are developing much more than an iWatch

Apple has assembled an all-star team featuring some of the world's most proficient and well-connected biosensor engineers. Is this extensive investment entirely dedicated to an iPhone app called Healthbook and an accessory called iWatch? I sense a larger plan...

Apple's sensor experts are developing more than an iWatch

More than 'i'

Apple could do "something really big."

Apple's competitors want to know what that is:

In July 2013, Samsung hired Ram Fish (founder of 3G health monitoring company, BlueLibris) away from Apple to become VP, mHealth. More recently in March, Samsung tempted Apple Global Supply Manager, Gloria Yi Qiao to become Senior Manager at its mHealth fund.

Apple already had its own brain trust of people with relevant experience before it began hiring biosensor people, for example, veteran engineers Brian Cox and Michael Kotch, formerly of Varian Medical Systems.

Relevant recent hires, including Kevin Lynch, Paul Deneve and Angela Ahrendts, confirm that the current plan reaches right to the top of the company. Who else is aboard?

The cast

Author of numerous papers, Ravi Narasimhan joined Apple's R&D department in December 2013. He knows biosensors, machine learning, systems and computational biology and was previously VP R&D, Biosensor Technology at Vital Connect.

Michael O'Reilly, MD and former chief medical officer of Masimo Corporation, in December participated in a high-level Apple/FDA meeting to discuss "mobile medical applications."

Todd Whitehurst, director of hardware development at Apple (since July 2013), former VP of product development at Senseonics and ex-R&D VP at Palyon Medical, has been involved in medical device development since 1999.

Ueyn Block, technical lead/engineering manager in the optical sensing arm of Apple, which he joined alongside other former members of C8 MediSensors in March 2013.

Erno Klaassen, former Senior Director of electrical systems and IC design at St. Jude Medical, joined Apple in February 2013 as Manager, Hardware Architecture.

Nancy Dougherty, Hardware Engineer at Apple since December 2013 was formerly hardware lead at wearable sensor tech firm, Sano Intelligence. She previously worked as Senior Electrical Engineer, device systems, at Proteus Digital Health.

A sampling of other recent recruits include Ben Shaffer, ex of Nike (Fuelband); Marcelo Malini Lemago, former CTO of Cercacor who holds over 70 sensor and health monitoring patents and joined Apple this year; Yiming Liu, ex-AccuVein (developers of a vein scanning system) joined Apple in October 2012.

I imagine these identified hires are representative of a much larger army of recently hired biosensor experts, even as the company continues to seek more, including a Human Factors/Biometrics Engineer.

Sense and sensor ability

"The whole sensor field is going to explode. It’s already exploding. It’s a little all over the place right now, but with the arc of time, it will become clearer I think," said Apple CEO, Tim Cook last year.

What connects most of these Apple recruits is their extensive biosensor development savvy:


Everyone and their dog (including mine, illustrated) believes these hires mean Apple's developing health sensors for future products. But why stop there?

How might robust, reliable, low-power ambient biometric sensors be applied as part of future physically controlled user interfaces for wearable devices?

That's just one possibility, but it leads me to suggest the scale and the extent of the investments Apple is making in hiring these expert talents sets the scene for something a little bit more compelling than an iWatch iPhone accessory or an app.

The signs -- and the investment -- suggest a much bigger picture...

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