Wireless sensors detect if surgery patients stop breathing

Researchers who previously developed a wireless system that can see through walls, has now extended the sensor technology to monitor breathing. University of Utah researchers hope their BreathTaking system could be used to monitor breathing to save lives in the hospital and at home.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

On a hospital bed, Neal Patwari is surrounded by the kind of wireless sensors you'd normally find in computer networks and cell phones.

The University of Utah electrical engineer is hoping to use sensors to monitor breathing while patients are recovering from surgery in the hospital.

The new breathing sensor is called BreathTaking. It doesn't require babies or patients to be hooked up to tubes or wires like traditional breathing devices.

The wireless system may be used to monitor patients following surgery. The system could also be used at home to monitor adults with sleep apnea or keep an eye out for babies at risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

In this study, Patwari was the guinea pig. After a series of breathing tests, the researchers found that a network of 20 wireless transceivers could not only accurately detect breathing, but could also estimate his breathing rate using data and a computer algorithm.

In 2009, the group showed that a wireless system of radio transmitters could help authorities see people moving behind solid walls.

The applications go beyond the hospital bed, especially if you add breath monitoring to motion detection. According to Patwari:

“A search and rescue team may arrive at a collapsed building and throw transceivers into the rubble, hoping to detect the breathing of anyone still alive inside. Police or SWAT teams may deploy a network around a building to determine if people are inside.

On the other hand, the ability to measure breathing from a wireless network has privacy implications. We have shown previously that a network deployed around external walls of a building can detect and track a person who is moving or changing position. If this system can also detect and monitor a sleeping person’s breathing, it would have additional utility for eavesdroppers or thieves.”

Photos via (1) Yang Zhao, University of Utah; (2) Neal Patwari, University of Utah

via University of Utah

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