Yes, 2020 is the year Apple watchOS times our hand-washing

Handwashing feature as shown on iPhone and Apple Watch   | Photo Credit: Apple Inc

In 1950, people got excited at the then-absurd prospects of self-driving cars, holograms and robots. In 2020, however, we are reminding ourselves to wash our hands, turning to visual guides and timers to keep ourselves germ-free especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

So when watchOS 7 was launched at Apple’s ‘Time Flies’ Special Event on September 16, it not only came with sleep tracking but it also introduced a hand-washing timer. The feature was first announced at the virtual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) 2020 in June.

How it works

Such a feature has to have some kind of break-through innovation here: Apple Watch uses motion sensors while its microphone and on-device Machine Learning to automatically detect hand-washing motions (certain wrist swivels) and sounds (water running). By doing this, it automatically kicks off a 20-second timer (a time universally advised by the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) motivating people to spend the proper amount of time scrubbing to keep their hands clean and protect their health.

Pro tip
  • For particularly thorough hand-washing sessions, it is worth activating the Water Lock so that there’s no screen touch from falling droplets. After the hand-washing, it is worth turning the crown to release water that may have gotten into the device.

Essentially, by correlating the sounds of hand-washing with the movements of scrubbing, the device is able to differentiate hand-washing from the other activities which require similar hand movements that you do in a day. For these similar activities, Apple has recorded several examples of these and labeled them so the models could learn the subtle signals that differentiate these examples from hand-washing itself.

The design of the hand-washing timer is quite attractive too, with a bubble-foam font and timer for the countdown. If you are not washing your hands, you can tap the small ‘cancel’ option on the Watch screen. Those who stop washing their hands before the timer get a general message about the need to wash for a full 20 seconds.

One can also access the hand-washing data via the Health app in their Watch-connected iPhone, to see how regularly they are washing their hands and if it is consistent. This is presented in infographics measured against the targetted time so users have an idea of what benchmark to meet.

So what is next? Kevin Lynch, Apple’s Vice President of Technology, says, “Sensor fusion, used in the automatic hand-washing detection feature, is a technique that we’ve been using since our early days on Apple Watch, and it provides a rich view into different activities. We’re constantly looking for ways that we can combine the views from our multiple sensors or add new sensors that would provide perspectives that we don’t have yet.”

Hand-washing on watchOS 7 compatible with Watch Series 3, 4 and 5, as well as the Watch Series 6 and SE which come watchOS 7-ready.

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Printable version | Oct 31, 2020 3:58:17 AM |

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