Placing sensors on the body to measure respiration, heart rate and other important vital signs to monitor health and guide treatment is nothing new. To do so, however, the patient or health care professional has to stop what they’re doing and adhere the sensors, wires, or other apparatus to the body, which can be stressful and time-consuming.  Now there’s a device in development that can take vital sign measurements as people casually go about their normal daily activities.

Researchers from Kyoto University‘s Center of Innovation and Panasonic Corporation have developed a radar-based device that can accurately measure the body’s vital signals remotely, without the need to adhere wires or sensors. According to a Panasonic press release, the radar-based sensor “combines radar with signal analysis algorithms to measure how the body moves as the heart beats. Body movements vary considerably, so the software filters isolate just the heart’s minute motions.” The technology enables wireless measurement of vital signs such as respiration and heartbeat and provides the same level of accuracy as electrocardiographs (ECGs). This makes remote “casual sensing” — monitoring vital signs as people sleep or get ready for their day, for example — possible. While the original prototype was the size of a microwave oven, the device has recently been improved by incorporating semiconductors and using a 79 GHz frequency band. The device is now about the size of a smoke detector. Other improvements include heightened measurement sensitivity, increased measurement range, and noise separation so that heartbeats of several people can be measured with a single radar. It can even penetrate through clothing and blankets and measure heartbeat and breathing motions during sleep. Researchers hope the device’s reduced size and other ongoing improvements will one day allow sensors to be installed in ceiling lighting.

The technology is still in the experimentation phase. Other companies are working to develop similar non-contact monitors using radio frequency (RF) emissions. Researchers believe that as remote sensing technology becomes more advanced and more convenient to use, installation in homes, schools and hospitals could be on the horizon. The ability to monitor important vital signs remotely, accurately, and conveniently could benefit home and workplace health care and reduce healthcare costs.