University of Utah researchers have found even more ways to use all those pings coming from a Wi-Fi hotspot. On top of being able to see through walls, they’ve found a way to use a wireless network to monitor a person’s heart rate.
The group of engineers, lead by assistant professor of electrical engineering Neal Patwari, rigged their system together by surrounding a hospital bed with 20 wireless transmitters on a 2.4GHz band. The system was able to detect a person taking 0.4 to 0.2 breaths per minute based on only 30 seconds data, whereas most monitors round off to the nearest full breath-per-minute. The experimental system also passed its accuracy test against a carbon dioxide monitor connected to the patient’s nostrils by tubes.
Unlike current heart monitors, a Wi-Fi based monitoring system is also much more comfortable for the patient than having a wire taped to a finger-mounted sensor. Of course, thios new system has a few caveats. If the patient moves, the system will detect the movement in place of their heart rate. The system also needs a minimum of 13 wireless transmitters, but the error rate drops to zero when 19 nodes are in use.
The system could be used to monitor a host of heart related illnesses including heart disease, sleep apnea, or babies at risk for sudden infant death syndrome. It’s cheap, too, as the system can be made with typical, commercially available wireless hardware. Patwari and his team are exploring different or multiple radio frequencies that could make their system more accurate or capable of monitor two people breathing at different rates.
The researchers estimate that the technology could make its way into homes in the next 5 years. The system could be used by the military or SWAT to detect the number of heartbeats inside a building.
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