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28 March 20130 Comments by Jon M

Phone heart rate monitor

pulseNew mobile technology has been developed that can read your heart rate just by using a smartphone. The experimental software comes from Japanese company Fujitsu who aren’t usually known for image-processing but they are active in many aspect of computer hardware and software.

The new camera technology aims to be able to read a person’s pulse in as little as five seconds. The way it works is deceptively simple. Basically put, all that happens is that the camera is used to measure the darkness of your skin above a major blood vessel. Blood contains lots of haemoglobin as this is used to store oxygen and transport it from the lungs to your organs. The thing about haemoglobin is that it strongly absorbs green light. On areas of thin skin, this absorption can be visible from an external camera. And thus, simply by measuring the absorption spectrum and the brightness readings, a cameraphone can identify minima and maxima which correspond to blood flow and heart beats.

We’re sure the actual algorithm is pretty complex but in essence, all it boils down to is using the camera so measure tiny changes in brightness on your skin and “see” your blood flowing after each heart beat. The camera must be kept extremely still for an accurate reading and it’s not yet clear how reliable the results are. Nevertheless, we’re sure you’ll agree this is a pretty cool proof of concept technology.

The best thing about it is that the underlying algorithms are completely portable. It should be possible to release this software for any phone or indeed any other device with a half-decent camera. Because of this, it could have many applications in medicine. Most obviously, it makes heart rate monitors much more portable and more foolproof. Meaning that patients could potentially monitor themselves without any specialist equipment or training.

It could also turn out to be useful for instances where long-term monitoring of heart rate is required as it’s much easier to measure the pulse without requiring the patient to be constantly hooked up to medical equipment. Maybe this style of visual monitoring could even help identify circulatory issues?

Fujitsu’s R&D department have certainly been very busy because there are some other exciting pieces of technology being announced at the moment. One is a cool-looking augmented reality input device for computers and, our personal favourite, a techy walking stick which includes a GPS for navigation as well as keeping track of and logging your exercise. Fujitsu certainly seems to be interested in the emerging medical and health technology market. We’re definitely eager to get a chance to try this new pulse monitor on our smartphones.

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