When prematurely-born babies are being kept warm in incubators, their vital signs are typically monitored using sensors that are stuck to their skin. Not only can this be uncomfortable for the infants, but it also results in a lot of false alarms as they move around. Scientists at Switzerland's EPFL and CSEM research institutes, however, are developing a no-contact alternative – a baby-vital-monitoring camera system.
The technology incorporates highly-sensitive cameras, that track an area on the infant's forehead. As the baby's heart beats, the skin in that area subtly changes color back and forth – it's imperceptible to the human eye, but the cameras are able to pick it up.
Respiration, meanwhile, is monitored by noting tiny movements of the infant's thorax and shoulders.
The video is analyzed using custom algorithms which determine if the pulse and breathing are within acceptable parameters, and that sound an alarm if they aren't. Even when the room lights are turned down at night, the system uses infra-red imaging to keep working.
The technology has already been tested on adult volunteers, and was found to deliver "practically the same results as conventional sensors." Plans now call for it to be trialled on premature babies at University Hospital Zurich.
Using cameras to monitor infants' heart rate is also a key part of a system developed at Israel's Ben-Gurion University, intended to reduce Sudden Infant Death Syndrome fatalities.