A baby in Flinders Medical Centre's intensive care neonatal unit, one of seven infants whose vital signs were remotely monitored in the study. (Credit: University of South Australia)

Researchers have designed a computer vision system that can automatically detect a tiny baby’s face in a hospital bed and remotely monitor its vital signs from a digital camera with the same accuracy as an electrocardiogram (ECG) machine.

Using artificial intelligence-based software to detect human faces is now common with adults, but this is the first time that researchers have developed software to reliably detect a premature baby’s face and skin when covered in tubes, clothing, and undergoing phototherapy.

The ‘baby detector’ was developed using a dataset of videos of babies in NICU to reliably detect their skin tone and faces. Vital sign readings matched those of an electrocardiogram and in some cases appeared to outperform the conventional electrodes, endorsing the value of non-contact monitoring of preterm babies in intensive care.

Infants were filmed with high-resolution cameras at close range and vital physiological data extracted using advanced signal processing techniques that can detect subtle colour changes from heartbeats and body movements not visible to the human eye.