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Cornell University Researchers Seek Partners for RFID Vital Signs Device

The system uses UHF RFID signals to detect a patient's heart rate, blood pressure and other vital signs without touching that individual, and is also being tested on rats and other animals.
By Claire Swedberg

The collected data could be managed and interpreted in back-end software that receives the information from a reader, Kan says. Alternatively, he adds, it could be managed on the reader itself, as a software-defined radio (SDR) using a microcontroller built into the reader. The computation is much less than required for an audio or video signal, he notes.

Since the system measures movement, it can identify when and how often a person's lungs inflate and deflate (indicating a breath), when his or her heart pumps, and the individual's blood pressure, provided that two tags are used, each measuring the time of a heartbeat. The system could calculate the time lapse between two heartbeat measurements in order to understand the patient's blood pressure. The tags could also be placed near an eyebrow to track eye movements.

Kan continues to work on modifying the system to improve the accuracy of RFID signal measurements. He says the team is seeing a 98 percent accuracy rate of vital sign measurements when used with normal motion, though he would like to bring that ratio closer to 100 percent. "The main interference comes from sudden motion in the room," he states, especially the motion of a patient whose vital signs are being measured. Because sudden motion could interfere with the results, he says, the present system is better designed for health-care applications rather than something like sports, in which an individual wearing a tag would be likely to be in motion at any given moment.

For monitoring animals, Kan says, the applications are intriguing. For instance, rats undergoing laboratory testing could have their vital signs measured without the need to shave them or apply probes. According to Kan, the team attached an RFID tag to each rat by building the tag into a neck harness worn by the animal. However, he has also been able to capture the necessary data from an RFID tag antenna on which the rodent is laying down.

Because transmission data can be collected continuously, Kan adds, the solution compiles considerably more data points than the periodic measurements of vital statistics from wired blood-pressure cuffs or manual vital-sign measurements. "In that way," he states, "we have much more data" than a traditional system. The solution has also been tested on approximately eight people, including Kan himself. Now, he says, "We need a partner to take it from prototype to product."

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