Using Tech to Measure Heart Rate

Utah State University https://www.usu.edu researchers don’t need an Apple Watch or stethoscope to measure the heartbeat—they only need a video camera and specialized software. Jake Gunther, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Nate Ruben have invented a USU-patented technology that can estimate the heart rate.

“When your heart circulates blood through your arteries and veins, the light absorbed by your skin changes by measurable amounts,” reports Gunther. “You can’t see it with the naked eye, but when the new technology processes the images from a camera, the changes are obvious.

Video cameras are used to record images in values of red, green, and blue. The green channel provides information that makes heart rate estimation possible. The system processes the color data and computes an average where skin is visible on the face, neck, or arms.

“The operation of the system is similar to a pulse oximeter,” said co-inventor and USU alumnus Nate Ruben. “But instead of looking at the light transmitted through skin tissue, we’re looking at the light being reflected from it.”

He adds, “This contact-less monitoring system could revolutionize medical equipment and consumer products including baby monitors and exercise gear. A future version of the inventors’ design could even replace hospital tools that monitor blood pressure or blood oxygen levels.”

The inventors are expanding their patented technology with the creation of a new company called Photorithm Inc. Gunther and Ruben are also developing a new baby monitor system called Smartbeat that uses similar software to detect breathing in a sleeping infant.

For more information, email Dr. Jake Gunther at jake.gunther@usu.edu or email Nate Ruben at nate.ruben@photorithm.com.

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