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Measuring heartbeats no longer requires body attached sensors

Researchers from Kyoto University and Panasonic Corp say they can measure heartbeats remotely and in real time, with accuracy matching electrocardiograms. This proof of principle reveals the next leap in medical technology — one that makes health metrics more automatic, without the need for sensors attached to the body and with more accurate measurements then with wearables such als fitness bands.

The technology offers an ability to take these measurements without requiring a wearable device or sensor.  It’s basically the same sort of millimeter-wave spread-spectrum  technoloy that is used to scan passengers at airports.

What Panasonic was looking for, is something that will offer people a way to monitor their body in a casual and relaxed environment, said Hiroyuki Sakai, a researcher at Panasonic. The design does not interfere with a patient’s daily routine, but provides automatic monitoring of their health status. The researcher state users don’t need to place sensors on the body, but that under controlled conditions, the accuracy is comparable to electrocardiographs.

Inspired by search and rescue technology

The inspiration for the device came from search and rescue technology, using  detection of very small Doppler shift in radar echoes due to motions of human body has long been studied for finding people buried under snow or debris for rescue purposes. The remote sensing system combines millimeter-wave spread-spectrum radar technology and a unique signal analysis algorithm that identify signals from the body.

Toru Sato, professor of communications and computer engineering at Kyoto University, says the test system was able to detect vital signals within a range of about 1m. Sato explains that the radar system is the same principle used in anti-collision radars for cars, but far more sensitive. “The major difference is that we need to detect motions of less than a millimeter while vehicle radars deal with motions of meters.”

Opportunities beyond heartbeats

The team sees opportunity beyond heartbeats. The body sends out all sorts of signals at once, including breathing and body movement. But more experimentation is needed to ensure accuracy across various age ranges and environments. Panasonic Co., is making decisions about the marketing of the final product. Sato says the company plans to develop an extensive healthcare services.

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