Team trials UAVs for vital signs monitoring

In a development hailed as step forward for search and rescue technology, researchers in Australia have used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to measure the vital signs of people on the ground.

Working in collaboration with the country’s Defence Science and Technology (DST) Group, the team from the University of South Australia successfully trialled UAVs equipped with remote-sensing imaging systems to measure heart and respiratory rates while hovering three metres from humans.

Video footage from the drones can detect changes in human skin tone and minute head movements to read vital signs, providing a low cost, accurate and convenient way to monitor heart rates without physical restrictions, according to the group.

The breakthrough could have many applications, including triaging disaster victims in earthquakes, detecting security and terrorism threats at airports, and remotely monitoring heart rates of premature babies in incubators.

During the trials, the technology was used to monitor 15 different individuals in both indoor and outdoor settings.  The team claims that the results were as accurate as the ECGs, pulse oximeters and respiratory belt systems that are currently used to monitor vital signs.

Whilst the trials were performed within three metres of humans, further developments to the technology could enable it to capture information at much greater distances.

“This is the first time that video from a hovering UAV has been used to measure cardiorespiratory signals,” said Professor Javann Chahl who led the research.

Chahl added that as well as being used in search and rescue operations the technology could also potentially be used to spot terrorists. “A person who is about to engage in violence will probably have anomalous behaviour and physiological signs. They might be highly agitated or unnaturally calm and in many cases they might be under the influence of drugs. There is a good chance that our system can detect these anomalies.”

The research was published in the latest issue of Biomedical Engineering Online.