BOSTON, April 22 (UPI) -- Researchers at MIT have developed a system that can wirelessly monitor a person's breathing and heart rate. The system, called Vital-Radio, was designed in MIT's Katabi Lab, part of the school's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
Without using any wearable body sensors, the wireless router can hone in on the slightest of movements -- silently measuring vital signs as a person stands, sits or sleeps. Vital-Radio works much like a radar system, pinging radio waves off of surrounding objects.
Computers are able to analyze the returned radio waves, identifying when the waves are bounced off a human. The system can then hone in on the slight movements that reveal contracting lungs or a beating heart.
Researchers say the system could be used to monitor hospital patients, or keep tabs on sleeping infants at home. Earlier this week, they presented their system at the CHI computer conference in Seoul, South Korea.
"Breathing and heart rate would be interesting in hospitals if you want to monitor people without having things on their body," research team member Fadel Adib told New Scientist.
But such a sensitive and specific system can get confused. Natural human movements -- walking around an apartment -- can undermine the system's ability to measure vitals. That's why the systems don't try to track to many types of movements at once. Engineers are working to perfect the system so it monitors movements when a person is moving and vitals when a person is stationary. When subjects are still, the system can track vitals with accuracy comparable to traditional methods.
"It has traditionally been very difficult to capture such minute motions that occur at the rate of mere millimeters per second," Dina Katabi, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science and director of MIT's Wireless Center, said in a press release. "Being able to do so with a low-cost, accessible technology opens up the possibilities for people to be able to track their vital signs on their own."