Non-contact sensing

The next step in continuous health monitoring

At Holst Centre we are researching the use of capacitive sensors and 140 GHz radar chips for unobtrusive and continuous vital sign monitoring, These promising technologies are invaluable for ambulatory monitoring purposes.

We’re increasingly familiar with continuous vital sign sensing. Its benefits are obvious: a more comprehensive view of someone’s health and the possibility of ambulatory monitoring. The main enablers of this trend have been the recent breakthroughs in wearable technologies. Thanks to advancements in nano- and digital technology, we’re now able to develop small, low-power devices that can be worn comfortably for days at a time.

Meanwhile, the shift from Healthcare to Care for Health is driving the next wave of continuous monitoring from our daily surroundings, eliminating the need for a physical connection with the human body altogether. We are in the process of developing this truly unobtrusive vital sign sensing technology with a range of medical and non-medical applications.

Non-contact sensing technologies

Currently, we’re looking into two technologies for non-contact vital sign monitoring. The first option is to use capacitive sensors that are able to carry out ECG readings and detect respiration rates through clothing. They’re equipped with smart algorithms that ensure reliable readings by compensating for variations due to movements or artefacts. The second option is to use 140 GHz radar chips, also used for gesture recognition. These radar chips can detect heartbeat and respiration from a considerable distance. Because they’re tiny and low-cost, it’s easy to unobtrusively embed them in our surroundings.

Many promising applications

Non-contact vital sign sensors have a lot of applications in cases where strapping on wearables is too cumbersome or simply impossible. A good example is the use of a radar chip on the dashboard and capacitive sensors in the car seat to check driver alertness. In elderly care, non-obtrusive sensors can help to assist nursing staff, particularly when a patient resides at home. And in demanding work environments, non-contact sensors can have a preventive function – for instance to enable stress management.