A radar system can wirelessly monitor the vital signs of patients, eliminating the need to hook them up to any machines.

Radar box next to a smart phone. (Credit: University of Waterloo)

Housed in a device smaller than a cell phone, the new technology records heart and breathing rates using sensitive radar waves that are analyzed by sophisticated algorithms embedded in an onboard digital signal processing unit.

Researchers developed the system to monitor sleep apnea patients by detecting subtle chest movements instead of connecting them to equipment in labs via numerous cumbersome wires. In the study, the radar unit was mounted to the ceiling over the bed of more than 50 volunteers as they slept normally in a model long-term care apartment.

The system, which collects and analyzes data from radar waves that are reflected back to the unit from the bodies of patients, achieved results over 90 percent as accurate as standard hardwired equipment. Advantages of the system for apnea monitoring include complete privacy since no cameras are used, much improved comfort, and potential use in homes rather than special sleep clinics.

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