Against the backdrop of a global respiratory virus pandemic, it’s likely that more than a few readers have been thinking about pulse oximeters. You may even have looked at one closely and seen that it’s little more than a device which shines light through your finger, and wondered how they work. It’s something [Giulio Pons] has done, and to show us how it’s done he’s created a working pulse oximeter of his own.
He started with an infra-red heartbeat sensor module, which is revealed as nothing more than an IR LED and a photodiode. Sampling the output from the photodiode allows measurement of heartbeat, but gives not clue as to oxygen saturation. The interesting part comes via the property of red light in that it’s transmission through flesh varies with oxygen saturation, so adding a red LED and alternately measuring from the IR and red illuminations allows a saturation figure to be derived.
Commercial pulse oximeters are pretty cheap, so many of us will no doubt simply order one from the usual sources and call it good. But it’s always interesting to know how any device works, and this project reveals something simpler than we might have expected. If pulse oximeters interest you, compare it with this one we featured a few years ago.
The last time you were in the emergency room after a horrible accident involving a PVC pressure vessel, a nurse probably clipped a device called a pulse oximeter onto one of your remaining fingers. These small electronic devices detect both your pulse and blood oxygen level with a pair of LEDs and a photosensor. [Anders] sent in a great tutorial for building your own pulse oximeter using a fancy ARM dev board, but the theory behind the operation of this device can be transferred to just about any microcontroller platform.
The theory behind a pulse oximeter relies on the fact that hemoglobin absorbs red and infrared light differently based on its oxygenation levels. By shining a red and IR LED through a finger onto a photoresistor, it’s possible to determine a person’s blood oxygen level with just a tiny bit of math.
Of course a little bit of hardware needs to be thrown into the project; for this, [Anders] used an EMF32 Gecko starter kit, a great looking ARM dev board. After connecting the LEDs to a few transistors and opamps, [Anders] connected his sensor circuit to the ADC on the Gecko board. From here it was very easy to calculate his blood oxygen level and even display his pulse rate to a PC application.
Yes, for just the price of a dev board and a few LEDs, it’s possible to build your own medical device at a price far below what a commercial pulseox meter would cost. FDA approval not included.