Tech Briefs

Imaging Technology: Why do you think it’s necessary to have this non-contact method?

Kumar: It all depends on the context. One is in hospital settings, where newborn and premature babies must be continuously monitored for vital signs. Pulse oximeters and wired probes are put on premature babies. Many times, [the probes] have to be taken off and put back on, and the skin is very delicate. If we can replace the instruments with a camera, which can constantly monitor the baby, and which can reliable estimate vital signs, then we can get rid of those wires. You can also think of people who have burns, who also may have probes placed on them.

Imaging Technology: How do you envision the technology being used with computers, tablets, and other software?

Kumar: As we are making our system robust against natural motion, it will become increasingly feasible to run our algorithm in the background in tablets and laptops to monitor vital signs like pulse rate and breathing rate. Continuous background monitoring of vital signs will open up new ways to provide better care, particularly for patients having heart problems.

Doctors can monitor their patients’ vital signs through video by analyzing subtle changes in skin color. The new software improves the technique by keying on regions of the face to help compensate for different skin tones, changes in lighting, and movement. (Image Credit: Mayank Kumar/Rice University)
Because of our higher signal-to-noise ratio, we can determine how the beat-to-beat pulse interval (also known as pulse rate variability) changes over time. Pulse rate variability is a critical parameter for any heart-related ailments. You can monitor your beat time; you can continuously send that data to your doctors.

Imaging Technology: Do you imagine this software being used in a mainstream way on mobile devices? What’s next for DistancePPG?

Kumar: I imagine it more to be used as a patient well-being/wellness app in smartphones and PCs. We are working with partners to see it through. We have developed a PC/Mac application which can continuously measure vital signs, and we are currently testing it in realistic scenarios. We are also planning to develop apps for tablets and mobile devices in the near future.

We are currently working to further improve performance under motion scenarios. Based on our current understanding, we need to better model the change in skin surface reflection during motion so that we can filter out motion-related corruptions and reliably estimate pulse-related skin-color change signals, even under large motion.

For more information about Rice University’s DistancePPG software, visit

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