Engineers develop tag capable of measuring vital signs using radio waves

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Engineers from Cornell University have developed a microchip “tag” capable of collecting vital signs form a distance using radio frequency signals. The method is outlined in a study published in Nature Electronics.

Conventional methods of tracking patients' heart rates, breathing rates and blood pressure require the use of cuffs and stethoscopes. In response, engineers developed small tags that measure mechanical motion by releasing radio waves that bounce off the body and organs. The information collected can then be detected by an electronic reader while the patient sits in a waiting room.

"If this is an emergency room, everybody that comes in can wear these tags or can simply put tags in their front pockets, and everybody's vital signs can be monitored at the same time. I'll know exactly which person each of the vital signs belongs to," said Edwin Kan, professor of electrical and computer engineering.

The signal used in the tag is as accurate as an electrocardiogram or a blood-pressure cuff. Additionally, up to 200 vitals can be monitored by one system because each tag has an identification code.

"We were thinking about the kind of technology we were already using in our lab and thought we could probably get a signal from those vital signs," said Xiaonan Hu, graduate student at Cornell. "But after we figured out the theory and did the experiments, the signal quality was better than our prediction. For every garment in our daily use, there could be a tag on them, and your cellphone will read your vital signs and will tell you some kind of information about your condition that day.”