Catching a breath -- wirelessly

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University of Utah engineers who built wireless networks that see through walls now are aiming the technology at a new goal: noninvasively measuring the breathing of surgery patients, adults with sleep apnea and babies at risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Study authors estimates it will be five years until such a product is on the market. They say a network of wireless transceivers around a bed can measure breathing rates and alert someone if breathing stops without any tubes or wires connected to the patient.

In addition to other possible uses, the study authors want to conduct research with doctors to test the method as an infant-breathing monitor, and, if it proves useful, develop it as a medical device that would need federal approval. It may be useful for adults with sleep apnea.

The Study: Using Wireless Transceivers to Detect Breathing

Because of efforts to patent the new use of the wireless breathing-detection technology – which has been named BreathTaking – Neal Patwari posted his study on the online scientific preprint website ArXiv before submitting it to a journal for formal publication.

Patwari conducted the study with Wilson; Sai Ananthanarayanan, a postdoctoral electrical engineer; Sneha Kasera, an associate professor of computer science; and Dwayne Westenskow, a professor of anesthesiology and research professor of bioengineering. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.

In a new study, Patwari showed a network of 20 wireless transceivers placed around a hospital bed could reliably detect breathing and estimate breathing rate to within two-fifths of a breath per minute based on 30 seconds of data.

This is different than using wireless transmitters to relay measurements from conventional breathing monitors. The motion of the chest and abdomen during breathing impedes the wireless radio signals crisscrossing a bedridden patient, who in the study was Patwari himself. Each of the 20 transceivers or "nodes" can transmit and receive to the other 19, meaning there can be up to 380 measurements (20 times 19) of radio signal strength within a short period of time (the transceivers transmit one after the other).

The study was conducted