Wearable devices now routinely track heart beats (though some do so with more accuracy than others), but one biometric measure remains elusive: blood pressure (BP). There are plenty of automated blood pressure cuffs on the market, including models that will communicate results wirelessly to an app running on a smartphone or tablet. But these devices are cumbersome and power hungry, and don’t work well for some people such as those with an irregular heart rhythm.

A new development may make it possible for developers to incorporate blood pressure measures into smartphones or even a wearable device. We have covered Valencell several times in the past; the company has developed technology that accurately measures heart rate using optical devices, even when incorporated into earbuds. At CES 2017, I got the chance to sit and speak with the company’s President and co-founder, Steven LeBoeuf. He demonstrated the company’s newest project: using their optical devices to measure blood pressure.

I rested the ball of my finger on a small sensor array, and in about 30 seconds it produced a blood pressure reading that appeared to be very accurate. (I am one of those people with an arrhythmia, and many automated BP machines give up trying to get a reading from me.) I repeated the process twice more, and the results were both plausible and consistent. This is remarkable, given the problems some optical devices have with making an accurate heart rate measurement.

The system is still under development, but it clearly uses very sophisticated algorithms to process the optical sensor data and extract meaningful information from it. We did not discuss a timeline, but the system could easily be incorporated into a mobile device such as a smartphone. It is possible that it could work in an earbud or a wristband as well. This is an exciting development, and we’ll be watching for the first products to license the technology.