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Critical Reviews™ in Biomedical Engineering
SJR: 0.207 SNIP: 0.376 CiteScore™: 0.79

ISSN Print: 0278-940X
ISSN Online: 1943-619X

Critical Reviews™ in Biomedical Engineering

DOI: 10.1615/CritRevBiomedEng.v28.i12.290
pages 173-178

A Non-Contact Vital Signs Monitor

Gregory Matthews
Biomedical Interactive Technology Center, Georgia Institute of Technology, GCATT Building, Room 237, 250 14th Street NW, Atlanta, GA 30318
Barry Sudduth
Biomedical Interactive Technology Center, Georgia Institute of Technology, GCATT Building, Room 237, 250 14th Street NW, Atlanta, GA 30318
Michael Burrow
Biomedical Interactive Technology Center, Georgia Institute of Technology, GCATT Building, Room 237, 250 14th Street NW, Atlanta, GA 30318


The expansion and contraction of the lungs and heart result in movement of the chest wall that can be detected and monitored to determine respiration and heart rate. A prototype non-contact Vital Signs Monitor (VSM) has been developed which uses very low power, high frequency Doppler radar to detect these motions. Digital signal processing (DSP) techniques, imbedded in the VSM, are used to extract heart and respiration rate information from the resultant waveform.
A 10-GHz prototype VSM was developed for the Air Force in the mid-1980s using analog technology. The objective was to assess a fallen soldier's clinical condition at distances up to 100 meters before committing resources to assist that individual. An updated and improved version of the original VSM was developed in 1997. This device was designed to operate at shorter distances, use a higher frequency carrier, and provide more specific heart and respiration rate information using digital signal prdcessing techniques.
The VSM radar system is a straightforward homodyne receiver. It operates using frequency modulated continuous wave (FM-CW) transmission, which allows for very low power levels. The safe human power density exposure level at its operating frequency of 35 GHz is 10 mW/cm2. A simple approximation using uniform distribution and an antenna aperture of 2 cm by 3 cm gives a power density at the antenna face of 0.017 mW/cm2, nearly a factor of 1000 below the safe level.
When the VSM's antenna is trained on the chest wall of a subject, the VSM is capable of measuring and distinguishing minute movements resulting from the mechanical activity of the heart and lungs. As the subject's chest wall moves, the exact phase of the return signal changes. To avoid the possibility of phase-related dead spots, two signals differing in phase by 90 degrees are used to demodulate the signal to baseband (DC). The two resulting "time-varying DC" signals represent the sine and cosine of a phase angle corresponding to the changing position of the target, in this case the motion of the chest wall. The current VSM operates at a frequency of 35 GHz with a corresponding wavelength of only 8.6 mm. This provides a response sensitive enough to detect the small motions caused by cardiac function.
The Vital Signs Monitor has several possible application areas. The fact that it is noncontacting would make it especially attractive for monitoring patients in bum units, NICUs, or trauma centers, where attaching electrodes is either inconvenient or not feasible. Results to date indicate a strong correlation between the cardiac component of the motion signal and an electrocardiogram (ECG). With careful signal processing and analysis, it may be possible to extract clinically useful information about cardiac condition, function, or performance from the surface-motion waveform. This could provide a safe, inexpensive, and painless addition to the diagnostic and monitoring tools currently available to cardiologists. Although mere are technical obstacles to overcome in filtering gross motions of the subject, the VSM offers significant advances over conventional methods of measuring heart and respiration rate.

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