Apple Watch could gain long-sought glucose tracking with Rockley Photonics deal: report

Photo of wrist with Apple watch
Rockley’s light-based sensors operate similarly to the technology already built into the underside of the Apple Watch and other fitness trackers—but advanced versions could log glucose levels, blood alcohol content or carbon monoxide poisoning. (Apple)

While the Apple Watch has evolved from a fashionable phone accessory to a high-tech health monitor—capable of scanning for heart conditions and calling for help after injuries—future generations may tap into a deeper set of features to track the body’s inner workings.

This could include long-rumored blood sugar readings, from the wrist-worn gadget, plus blood pressure measurements, hydration levels and more, following newly divulged arrangements with the sensor maker Rockley Photonics.

As first reported by The Daily Telegraph, Rockley now lists Apple as its biggest customer and contributor of the lion’s share—or potentially nearly all—of its revenues dating back to 2019. 

The news comes from the company’s recent filing with the SEC after it went public earlier this year through a $1.2 billion deal with a special purpose acquisition company backed by the pan-Asia investment firm SIN Capital.

In its statement, Rockley said it expects to depend on Apple’s business for a significant portion of its income for the foreseeable future, including revenue from development and delivery of new products to the tech giant. It also expects to see its silicon photonics-powered sensor chips begin to roll out in consumer devices in late 2022. 

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“We expect that our immediate focus over the next two years will be on developing and commercializing our products for incorporation in consumer wearables and mobile applications, followed by medical devices in the healthcare space, and subsequently on developing our AI analytics cloud platform,” the company said, adding that while consumer wellness is its target market, it plans to file for FDA medical clearances if needed.

Rockley’s light-based sensors operate similarly to the technology already built into the underside of the Apple Watch and other fitness trackers, with more-basic hardware for measuring heartbeats, body temperature and oxygen saturation. 

But the company said it is also developing an advanced sensor package to log glucose levels—and potentially provide personal alerts for high blood alcohol content, carbon monoxide poisoning, or muscle lactate levels during workouts.

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When the U.K.-based Rockley announced its plans to go public in March, it said it was currently working with four consumer electronics manufacturers and two medtech companies to provide full-stack solutions incorporating sensing hardware, algorithms and data analytics. It also supplies optical sensors and laser-based systems for autonomous cars and machine vision applications.

However, in its latest SEC filing, it said its two largest customers, Apple included, made up 100% of its revenues for 2020 and 99.6% in 2019.

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According to previous reports, Apple has been chasing non-invasive blood sugar monitoring technology for years, including tasking a dedicated team of in-house engineers to the effort as early as 2017

And while it may not seek out a full FDA clearance as a medical device, a glucose-tracking smartwatch would be of great interest to the millions of people with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, or prediabetes—where typical long-term sensors must be inserted under the skin by a healthcare provider.