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Noninvasive RFID tag measures your vital signs without body contact

RFID vital signs monitor
Cornell University/Nature Electronics
Being able to carry out continuous monitoring of the body’s vital signs could be great for offering early warning about potential abnormalities. But for this kind of technology to ever become mainstream it’s necessary that it can be done in the most noninvasive way possible — meaning no mess of wires and electrodes. That’s something that researchers from Cornell University have been working on with a new project. They have created a new touch-free monitoring system that can keep tabs on a person’s heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing with nothing more invasive than a tiny RFID tag that could be placed on an item of clothing like a shirt pocket.

The technology was developed by Edwin Kan, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Cornell University, and graduate student Xiaonan Hui. The method relies on radio waves and something called near-field coherent sensing. In the researchers’ demonstration, they were able to successfully pick up subjects’ heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing measures with a high degree of accuracy, using only a small antenna and RFID tag placed within 10 centimeters of the body, and an RFID reader located up to two meters away. “This method increases the sensitivity and the signal quality,” Xiaonan Hui told Digital Trends.

In the near term, the researchers are interested in using this technology in hospitals. In that situation, it could be employed to monitor large numbers of patients without having to hook them up to separate machines and devices for measurement. In a simulation carried out as part of their study, they showed that their system could detect up to 200 tags at once — all carried over the same wireless communication channel.

“There are several potential real-world applications for this, such as the next generation wearable devices, smart garments, healthcare monitoring, and clinical studies,” Hui continued. “The convenience and the high performance could be particularly helpful for smart garments. Imagine if your daily garments were able to gather your vital signs directly, and then report them straight to your cell phone.” (As part of the research, the RFID chip and antenna was shown to be so robust that it could be embroidered directly into fabric, and survive continuous washing.)

A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Nature Electronics.

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