No more smartwatches or connected tablets? Reading human vital signs through walls via a reverse Wi-Fi box and machine learning

A monitoring future without smartwatches, pendants, or transmitting readings through your tablet? A professor at MIT has developed a box, about the size of a Wi-Fi router, that can monitor a person’s vital signs throughout the house. Like Wi-Fi, the device emits a low-power wireless radio signal, but the device then measures the return on those radio signals from the bodies in the residence. The ‘neural network’ takes the data from the tiny changes in electromagnetic signals to track physiological signs as the person moves from room to room, even through walls, using machine learning to analyze those reflected signals and extract physiological data such as breathing, heart rate, posture, and gait. The device has also been tested on sleep patterns including sleep stages, which means it could replace the awkward and artificial electrodes in a lab which are usual for sleep testing.

Dina Katabi, a MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science, built this box in her lab. So far it has been tested in over 200 homes around the US, tracking the baselines of healthy people and those with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, depression, and pulmonary diseases. In the case of Parkinson’s, the data gathered by the device over eight weeks in the home of a patient indicated that his gait improved around 5 or 6 am, right around the time he took his medication. Data is encrypted and Professor Katabi has stated that the setup process requires a user to complete a series of specific movements before it’s possible to be tracked. She has also cofounded a startup, Emerald Innovations, to commercialize the technology. If it is workable beyond the test stage, it has the capability to revolutionize remote patient monitoring. Engadget, MIT Technology Review

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