Spring 2018 - Articles

SonarBeat: Wireless Vital Signs

By March 21, 2018 No Comments

After two years of research, long hours and multiple test trials, Auburn graduate students have created a cell phone app that monitors vital signs—a technology that has attracted many eyes in the medical community.

SonarBeat, the smartphone app, was born from the need to easily and efficiently monitor vital signs without physically contacting a patient, a resource greatly needed for patients suffering from motion-debilitating illnesses.

Graduate student Xuyu Wang has dedicated hundreds of hours to the project, learning to balance married life, being a father of a 1-year-old girl and further advancing his field. He works until 5 or 6 a.m. every morning. “I’m focusing on this project almost all of the time,” Wang said. “I only stop to eat or sleep. Besides experiments, I read a lot of [research] papers.”

Shiwen Mao, the professor leading the research, said the app uses Wi-Fi signals to detect and monitor heart rates and respiration.

“Traditional technology requires you wrap something around the patient or clip something to their fingertip, but those technologies are quite annoying to the patient,” Mao said. “If you need to monitor the respiration all night, the tight wrap around the chest would get annoying.”

SonarBeat releases Wi-Fi signals that bounce off the patient’s chest, allowing the app to analyze the vibrations to understand the heart’s movements.

“The measurement is quite accurate because it is natural,  not obtrusive,” Mao said. With Wi-Fi being available in most places, Mao said it was the perfect resource for on-the-go evaluation. In the case of an earthquake, the app could be used to detect a breathing individual buried under rubble. If someone were to come home to an intruder in the house, the app could would detect the breathing individual.

An area where the app might make the biggest difference is in at-home health care.

“The United States is becoming a country of senior people. There is a lot of demand for [limited] hospital space and equipment,” Mao said. With this app, patients can do the simple things at home and they won’t need to go to a hospital.”

If there is an issue detected with the system, a notification can be sent directly to the hospital, alerting the doctor and lessening the time it takes to seek care.

Mao and his team of students are not the first to work with Wi-Fi signal in these ways, but SonarBeat is more accurate than existing technologies. Their presentation at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers International Conference on Sensing, Communication and Networking brought much attention and recognition. Mao said there are many companies looking at the technology for future development.