Sitting and lying down for better health
Okay, let’s take the example of a car: imagine that you could build sensors into the driver’s seat, steering wheel and dashboard so that your respiration rate, blood pressure, heart rate and cardiac activity could be measured on a continuous basis. First and foremost, a great many accidents could be prevented by detecting fatigue, stress or heart problems before they became an issue for the driver. And, in self-driving cars, these readings are essential, because the automatic pilot needs to be sure that it can rely on having an alert driver in certain situations. Then, in cases where an accident still can’t be avoided, these sensors could be used to check the condition of the driver and passengers and transmit their findings to the emergency services. Finally, your car seat could carry out your daily health check and send you a weekly report with all the facts and figures recorded about you.
Three ‘beyond wearables’ technologies
Imec is currently working on three technologies that will make this new ‘beyond wearables’ era possible: capacitive, radar and hyperspectral sensor technology.
1. Capacitive sensors
Imec researchers have integrated capacitive sensors into various places within an office chair and a car seat to carry out ECG readings and detect respiration rates through clothing. This principle is not new, but the technology has not been used before in practical applications because the quality of the readings becomes poor if the person moves about in their chair or if the car drives on a bumpy road. So it was a question of tackling the variable reliability that would make real-life applications possible.
The solution lay in the use of smart algorithms. First of all, algorithms can make adjustments/compensate for variations when movements and artifacts are detected, which makes the readings produced more reliable. Second, algorithms can make the system adaptive. This means that, in good conditions, an (ECG) signal of medical quality can be recorded. When conditions are not so good, the sensors switch to robust mode and take more general readings. For example, although you can still record the heart rate, obtaining an accurate ECG graph is not possible. This variable quality is factored into the readings and passed on as such – together with the results recorded.