Hey Google, Is My Heart Still Beating?

University of Washington researchers studying the potential medical use of smart speakers such as Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Nest have recently released a paper detailing their experiments with non-contact acoustic heartbeat detection. Thanks to their sensitive microphone arrays, normally used to help localize voice commands from the user, the team proposes these affordable and increasingly popular smart home gadgets could lead a double life as unobtrusive life sign monitors. The paper goes so far as to say that even with multiple people in the room, their technique can be used to monitor the heart and respiratory rate of a specific target individual.

Those are some bold claims, but they aren’t without precedent. Previous studies performed at UW in 2019 demonstrated how smart speaker technology could be used to detect cardiac arrest and monitor infant breathing. This latest paper could be seen as the culmination of those earlier experiments: a single piece of software that could not just monitor the vitals of nearby patients, but actually detect a medical emergency. The lifesaving potential of such a program, especially for the very young and elderly, would be incredible.

So when will you be able to install a heart monitor skill on the cheap Echo Dot you picked up on Prime Day? Well, as is often the case with this kind of research, putting the technique to work in the real-world isn’t nearly as easy as in the laboratory. While the concept is promising and is more than worthy of further research, it may be some time before our lowly smart speakers are capable of Star Trek style life-sign detection.

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An Arduino Sickbay Display Worthy Of The Enterprise

The various displays and interfaces in Star Trek, especially The Original Series, were intentionally designed to be obtuse and overly complex so they would appear futuristic to the audience. If you can figure out how Sulu was able to fly the Enterprise with an array of unlabeled buttons and rocker switches, we’d love to hear it. But one area of the ship where this abstract design aesthetic was backed off a bit was sickbay, as presumably they wanted the audience to be able to understand at a glance whether or not Kirk or Spock were going to pull through their latest brush with death (spoilers: they’re fine).

For his latest project, [XTronical] has recreated the classic displays from Dr McCoy’s sickbay with an Arduino Nano and a 2.8 inch LCD display. It even has a speaker and MP3 player module to recreate the “heartbeat” sound from the original show. The whole thing looks and sounds phenomenal, and would be a perfect desk toy for the classic Trek aficionado. But this isn’t just a toy, it’s a fully functional medical scanner.

Of course, this little gadget can’t tell you if you’ve come down with a nasty case of Rigellian fever, but it can read your vitals using a MAX30100 pulse oximeter module and DS18B20 thermometer. In fact, it actually has two DS18B20 sensors: one to measure ambient temperature, the other to measure skin temperature. With those two figures, [XTronical] says it can calculate your core body temperature. The only thing that’s made up is the blinking “Respiration” indicator, that one’s just an estimate.

So where do we go from here? This project is presented as merely the first step in building a complete prop, perhaps in the form of a medical tricorder. We’ve seen some phenomenal TOS tricorder builds over the years, and some have even used the Raspberry Pi to shoehorn a bit of functionality into them. [XTronical] says he’s working on getting the source code and a step-by-step build guide put together, so keep an eye out for that in the near future.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: HeartyPatch

[Ashwin K Whitchurch] and [Venkatesh Bhat] Have not missed a beat entering this year’s Hackaday Prize with their possibly lifesaving gadget HeartyPatch. The project is a portable single wire ECG machine in a small footprint sporting Bluetooth Low Energy so you can use your phone or another device as an output display.

Projects like this are what the Hackaday Prize is all about, Changing the world for the better. Medical devices cost an arm and a leg so it’s always great to see medical hardware brought to the Open Source and Open Hardware scene. We can already see many uses for this project hopefully if it does what’s claimed we will be seeing these in hospitals around the world sometime soon. The project is designed around the MAX30003 single-lead ECG monitoring chip along with an ESP32 WiFi/BLE SoC to handle the wireless data transmission side of things.

We really look forward to seeing how this one turns out. Even if this doesn’t win a prize, It’s still a winner in our books even if it only goes on to help one person.

Hackaday Prize Entry: A Complete Suite Of Biomedical Sensors

The human body has a lot to tell us if we only have the instruments to listen. Unfortunately, most of the diagnostic gear used by practitioners is pricey stuff that’s out of range if you just want to take a casual look under the hood. For that task, this full-featured biomedical sensor suite might come in handy.

More of an enabling platform than a complete project, [Orlando Hoilett]’s shield design incorporates a lot of the sensors we’ve seen before. The two main modalities are photoplethysmography, which uses the MAX30101 to sense changes in blood volume and oxygen saturation by differential absorption and reflection of light, and biopotential measurements using an instrumentation amplifier built around an AD8227 to provide all the “electro-whatever-grams” you could need: electrocardiogram, electromyogram, and even an electrooculogram to record eye movements. [Orlando] has even thrown on temperature and light sensors for environmental monitoring.

[Orlando] is quick to point out that this is an educational project and not a medical instrument, and that it should only ever be used completely untethered from mains — battery power and Bluetooth only, please. Want to know why? Check out the shocking truth about transformerless power supplies.

Thanks to [fustini] for the tip.