Two Bits a Gander: Of Premature Babies, Incubators, and Coney Island Sideshows

Newborn humans are both amazingly resilient and frighteningly fragile creatures. A child born with a 40 full weeks of gestation has pretty good odds of surviving the neonatal period these days, and even if he or she comes along a few weeks early, things usually go smoothly. But those babies that can’t wait to get out and meet the world can run into trouble, and the earlier they’re born, the greater the intervention needed to save them.

We’ve all seen pictures of remarkably tiny babies in incubators, seemingly dwarfed by the gloved hands of an anxious parent who just wants that first magical touch of their baby’s skin. As common as such an intervention is now and as technologically advanced as neonatology is, care for premature infants as a medical discipline has a long and interesting history of technical and social hacks that’s worth looking at.

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Wireless Wearable Watches your Vital Signs

Is it [Dr. McCoy]’s long-awaited sickbay biobed, with wireless sensing and display of vital signs? Not quite, but this wearable patient monitor comes pretty close. And from the look of it, [Arthur]’s system might even monitor a few more parameters than [Bones]’ bleeping bed from the original series.

Starting with an automatic blood pressure cuff that [Arthur] had previously reversed engineered, he started adding sensors. Pulse, ECG, respiration rate, galvanic skin response, and body temperature are all measured from one compact, wrist-wearable device. It’s not entirely wireless – the fingertip pulse oximetry dongle and chest electrodes still need to be wired back to the central unit – but the sensors all talk to a Teensy 3.2 which then communicates to an Android app over Bluetooth, so there’s no need to be tethered to the display. And speaking of electrodes, we’re intrigued by the ADS1292 chip [Arthur] uses, which not only senses the heart’s electrical signals but also detects respirations by the change in impedance as the chest wall expands and contracts. Of course there’s also pneumography via radar that could be rolled into this sensor suite.

It’s all pretty cool, and we can easily see a modified version of this app displayed on a large tablet or monitor being both an accurate prop reconstruction and a useful medical device.

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Pulse Oximeter is a Lot of Work

These days we are a little spoiled. There are many sensors you can grab, hook up to your favorite microcontroller, load up some simple library code, and you are in business. When [Raivis] got a MAX30100 pulse oximeter breakout board, he thought it would go like that. It didn’t. He found it takes a lot of processing to get useful results out of the device. Lucky for us he wrote it all down with Arduino code to match.

A pulse oximeter measures both your pulse and the oxygen saturation in your blood. You’ve probably had one of these on your finger or earlobe at the doctor’s office or a hospital. Traditionally, they consist of a red LED and an IR LED. A detector measures how much of each light makes it through and the ratio of those two quantities relates to the amount of oxygen in your blood. We can’t imagine how [Karl Matthes] came up with using red and green light back in 1935, and how [Takuo Aoyagi] (who, along with [Michio Kishi]) figured out the IR and red light part.

The MAX30100 manages to alternate the two LEDs, regulate their brightness, filter line noise out of the readings, and some other tasks. It stores the data in a buffer. The trick is: how do you interpret that buffer? Continue reading “Pulse Oximeter is a Lot of Work”

The ‘All-Seeing Pi’ Aids Low-Vision Adventurer

Adventure travel can be pretty grueling, what with the exotic locations and potential for disaster that the typical tourist destinations don’t offer. One might find oneself dangling over a cliff for that near-death-experience selfie or ziplining through a rainforest canopy. All this is significantly complicated by being blind, of course, so a tool like this Raspberry Pi low-vision system would be a welcome addition to the nearly-blind adventurer’s well-worn rucksack.

[Dan] has had vision problems since childhood, but one look at his YouTube channel shows that he doesn’t let that slow him down. When [Dan] met [Ben] in Scotland, [Ben] noticed that he was using his smartphone as a vision aid, looking at the display up close and zooming in to get as much detail as possible from his remaining vision. [Ben] thought he could help, so he whipped up a heads-up display from a Raspberry Pi and a Pi Camera. Mounted to a 3D-printed frame holding a 5″ HDMI display and worn from a GoPro head mount, the camera provides enough detail to help [Dan] navigate, as seen in the video below.

The rig is a bit unwieldy right now, but as proof of concept (and proof of friendship), it’s a solid start. We think a slimmer profile design might help, in which case [Ben] might want to look into this Google Glass-like display for a multimeter for inspiration on version 2.0.

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Interactive Game Board Helps Toddler Learn Colors and Shapes

Most parents would do anything to enrich their kids’ worlds and teach them what they need to know. Hacker parents often take it one step further by modifying the kid’s world to allow them to work past a disability. To wit we have an interactive game board to help a toddler learn her shapes and colors.

The toddler in question is [Becca], and her needs are special because of the progressive nature of the blindness that will result from her Usher Syndrome. [Becca] will need visual acuity testing much earlier than most toddlers, but a standard eye chart is meaningless to kids before they get their letters. This is where Lea shapes come in – a set of four shapes that are used to make visual testing a game and help practitioners assess what a child can and cannot see.

[Jake] and his wife [Beth] were advised to familiarize [Becca] with the shapes, but all she wanted to do was eat the printed sheet. In order to make the task more entertaining, [Jake] built an interactive board where brightly colored Lea shapes trigger the room lights to change to the same color as the block when it’s inserted into the correct spot on the board, as a visual reward. Reed switches, magnets, and an Arduino comprise the game logic, and the board communicates to the Philips Hue smart bulbs over an NRF24L01. The video below also shows some cool under-bed lights and a very engaged [Becca] learning her shapes and colors.

As we expected when we last covered his efforts to help [Rebecca], [Jake] has leveraged the Raspberry Pi he used as a hub for the stairwell lighting project. We’re looking forward to seeing what else he comes up with, and to see how [Becca] is thriving.

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RFID Stethoscope Wheezes and Murmurs for Medical Training

You’d think that with as many sick people as there are in the world, it wouldn’t be too difficult for a doctor in training to get practice. It’s easy to get experience treating common complaints like colds and the flu, but it might take the young doctor a while to run across a dissecting abdominal aortic aneurysm, and that won’t be the time for on the job training.

Enter the SP, or standardized patient – people trained to deliver information to medical students to simulate a particular case. There’s a problem with SPs, though. While it’s easy enough to coach someone to deliver an oral history reflecting a medical condition, the student eventually needs to examine the SP, which will reveal none of the signs and symptoms associated with the simulated case. To remedy this, [Chris Sanders] and [J Scott Christianson] from the University of Missouri developed an open-source RFID stethoscope to simulate patient findings.

This is one of those “why didn’t I think of that?” ideas. A cheap stethoscope is fitted with an Arduino, and RFID reader, and a small audio board. RFID tags are placed at diagnostic points over an SP’s chest and abdomen. When the stethoscope is placed over a tag, a specific sound file is fetched from an SD card and played over earbuds. The student doesn’t have to ask, “What am I hearing?” anymore – the actual sound of bruits or borborygmi are heard.

We can easily see expanding this system – RFID tags that trigger a faux ultrasound machine to display diagnostic images, or tiny OLED screens displaying tagged images into an otoscope. A good place to start expanding this idea might be this digital stethoscope recorder and analyzer.

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Paper Toy Can Save Lives

Although there is a lot of discussion about health care problems in big countries like the United States, we often don’t realize that this is a “first world” problem. In many places, obtaining health care of any kind can be a major problem. In places where water and electricity are scarce, a lot of modern medical technology is virtually unobtainable. A team from Standford recently developed a cheap, easily made centrifuge using little more than paper, scrap material like wood or PVC pipe, and string.

A centrifuge is a device that spins samples to separate them and–to be effective–they need to spin pretty fast. Go to any medical lab in a developed country and you’ll find at least one. It will be large, heavy, expensive, and it will require electricity. Some have tried using hand-operated centrifuges using mechanisms like an egg beater or a salad spinner, but these don’t really move fast enough to work well. At the least, it takes a very long time to get results with a slow centrifuge.

[M. Saad Bhamla] and his colleagues at Stanford started brainstorming on this problem. They thought about toys that rotate, including a yo-yo. Turns out, those don’t spin all that fast, either. Then they considered a whirligig. We had forgotten what those are, but it is the real name for a toy that has a spinning disk and (usually) a string. When you pull on the string, the disk spins and the more you pull, the faster the disk spins. These actually have an ancient origin appearing in medieval tapestries and almost 2,500 years ago in China.

[Bhamla] found that how the toy worked was poorly understood (from a scientific standpoint)  and took pictures of one in operation with a high-speed camera. The team was able to create the “paperfuge”, a human-powered centrifuge that would spin at 125,000 RPM, enough to separate plasma from blood in under two minutes and isolate malaria parasites in 15. Some versions of the device could cost as little as twenty cents and don’t require anything more exotic than paper and string. You can see a video about the paperfuge, below.

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