Tiny new tool to track heart rate in real time on a smartphone

October 20, 2011

Tracking heart rate real time on a smartphone (credit: EPFL)

EPFL’s Embedded Systems and Telecommunications Circuits Laboratories have developed a small, non-invasive  wireless device linked to a smartphone to alert patients and their doctors immediately to cardiac anomalies so they can take necessary medical measures.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death worldwide; according to World Health Organization statistics, it is responsible for 70,000 – 100,000 sudden deaths every year. In heart attack situations, time is of the essence in preventing death.

The “wireless body sensor network” (WBSN) device uses high-precision body sensors applied to the skin, a ZigBee radio module, and a chip that’s optimized for analyzing and processing biological signals, and consumes very little electricity.

They’re miniaturized, so everything is light and non-invasive. Connected to a wireless network, they monitor users’ heart rates remotely and in real time. By means of complex algorithms, anomalies can be detected and analyzed. When a problem is detected, information is sent to the user’s smartphone, then by text message or e-mail to medical personnel, who can intervene if necessary.

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(credit: EPFL)

“This system collects very reliable and precise data, it’s equipped with a very effective noise filtering system, and it has batteries that can last for 3-4 weeks at a time,” notes EPFL professor David Atienza, head of EPFL’s Embedded Systems Lab. “Above all it provides an automatic analysis and immediate transmission of data in compressed format to the doctor, preventing him or her from having to work through hours of recorded data.”

“Its size, its lightness, its ease of use, the fact that it measures continuously and remotely, which allows analysis to take place anywhere, makes this device very attractive to doctors,” says Etienne Pruvot, a cardiologist in the Lausanne University Hospitals (CHUV) Cardiology Service, who adds that the system still needs to be tested in real-life conditions.

EPFL is in collaborations with various companies, such as a European project named IcyHeart to design an ultra-compact, non-invasive system that could monitor a variety of health indicators in a completely autonomous fashion, remotely and cheaply. This new tool is also part of the “Guardian Angels” research project, whose goal is to develop personal assistance devices that would help people manage health and quality of life over an entire lifetime.

According to Atienza, other applications, such as monitoring athletic performance, are also possible, and researchers in Spain are working on a project that would monitor diet and physical activity in obese patients.