Showing pulse oximeter and color sensor combining to measure oxygen in blood and skin tone

Perfecting The Pulse Oximeter

We’re always looking for interesting biohacks here on Hackaday, and this new research article describing a calibrated pulse oximeter for different skin tones really caught our attention.

Pulse oximeters are handy little instruments that measure your blood oxygen saturation using photoplethysmography (PPG) and are a topic we’re no strangers to here at Hackaday. Given PPG is an optical technique, it stands to reason that its accuracy could be significantly affected by skin tone and that has been a major topic of discussion recently in the medical field. Given the noted issues with pulse oximeter accuracy, these researchers endeavored to create a better pulse oximeter by quantifying skin pigmentation and using that data to offset errors in the pulse oximeter measurements. A slick idea, but we think their results leave a lot to be desired.

Diagram showing pulse oximeter and color sensor combining to measure oxygen in blood and skin toneTheir idea sounds pretty straightforward enough. They created their own hardware to measure blood oxygen saturation, a smartwatch that includes red and infrared (IR) light-emitting diodes (LED) to illuminate the tissue just below the surface of the skin, and a photosensor for measuring the amount of light that reflects off the skin. But in addition to the standard pulse oximeter hardware, they also include a TCS34725 color sensor to quantify the user’s skin tone.

So what’s the issue? Well, the researchers mentioned calibrating their color sensor to a standard commercially-available dermatology instrument just to make sure their skin pigmentation values match a gold standard, but we can’t find that data, making it a bit hard to evaluate how accurate their color sensor actually is. That’s pretty crucial to their entire premise. And ultimately, their corrected blood oxygen values don’t really seem terribly promising either. For one individual, they reduced their error from 5.44% to 0.82% which seems great! But for another user, their error actually increases from 0.99% to 6.41%. Not so great. Is the problem in their color sensor calibration? Could be.

We know from personal experience that pulse oximeters are hard, so we applaud their efforts in tackling a major problem. Maybe the Hackaday community could help them out?

Hands-On: CCCamp2019 Badge Is A Sensor Playground Not To Be Mistaken For A Watch

Last weekend 5,000 people congregated in a field north of Berlin to camp in a meticulously-organized, hot and dusty wonderland. The optional, yet official, badge for the 2019 Chaos Communication Camp was a bit tardy to proliferate through the masses as the badge team continued assembly while the camp raged around them. But as each badge came to life, the blinkies that blossomed each dusk became even more joyful as thousands strapped on their card10s.

Yet you shouldn’t be fooled, that’s no watch… in fact the timekeeping is a tacked-on afterthought. Sure you wear it on your wrist, but two electrocardiogram (ECG) sensors for monitoring heart health are your first hint at the snoring dragon packed inside this mild-mannered form-factor. The chips in question are the MAX30001 and the MAX86150 (whose primary role is as a pulse sensor but also does ECG). We have high-res ADCs just waiting to be misused and the developers ran with that, reserving some of the extra pins on the USB-C connector for external devices.

There was a 10€ kit on offer that let you solder up some electrode pads (those white circles with gel and a snap for a solid interface with your body’s electrical signals) to a sacrificial USB-C cable. Remember, all an ECG is doing is measuring electrical impulses, and you can choose how to react to them. During the workshop, one of the badge devs placed the pads on his temples and used the card10 badge to sense left/right eye movement. Wicked! But there are a lot more sensors waiting for you on these two little PCBs.

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