Czechs develop unique contactless monitor to track Covid-19 patients' every breath, heartbeat

Photo: University of Hradec Králové

A team of Czech researchers are developing a unique contactless monitoring system which can both track and predict the development of Covid-19 in a hospitalised patient. The highly sensitive sensors – contained in thin mattress pads – both alerts nurses to any sudden changes and helps doctors plan a course of treatment.

For the past 12 years, researchers at the University of Hradec Králové have been studying micro-vibrations in the human body – minor tremors stemming from cardiac and respiratory activity.

Photo: University of Hradec Králové

Among the team are, specialists in applied cybernetics and electronics, data analysts, and five physicists, led by Filip Studnička, an assistant professor at the university.

“Our pilot project started about three years ago, when we began developing completely new super-sensitive sensors to measure these tiny vibrations. Among other things, we focused on measuring respiratory functions.

“The original idea was to monitor micro-movements, which cause problems on X-rays, on magnetic resonance imaging. So, many scientists are working to eliminate these manifestations – but we were working to amplify them.

RNDr. Filip Studnička,  Ph.D. and Ing. Richard Cimler,  photo: Milan Baják,  archive of  Czech Radio Hradec Králové

“In physics, we use nice mathematical methods and do not look at those signals as human manifestations, but as one-dimensional curves living in n-dimensional spaces. Then we apply beautiful mathematics from the general theory of relativity.

“When Covid-19 came, of which respiratory problems are one manifestation, we decided to shift our focus directly on monitoring the parameters of this disease. And, so far, it is going well.”

The mattress pad is being tested in Czech hospitals now. Doctors appreciate that sensors do not need to be attached to a patient’s body and at the same time are hyper-sensitive, notes team member Richard Cimler, a specialist in applied cybernetics.

“The sensors are developed to measure specific manifestations, so they are super-sensitive, among the most sensitive that exist today. If an ant walked past one, we register a huge signal.

Photo: University of Hradec Králové

“Being ‘contactless’ is a big advantage especially for Covid-19 patients in intensive care units, where vital signs need to be monitored. To hook them up with ECGs and other things, now a doctor or nurse must put on full protective gear, and when they leave, the patient might pull them off.

“Doctors don't expect to be able to monitor vital signs in detail through a pad under the mattress. And they are very helpful. Although they have almost no time now, they consult with us, pass on information that may make their work even easier in the future.

“Ideally, we will make a kind of ‘traffic light’ that will provide them quick information in the sense of green, orange, red lights. So, this parameter looks fine, but here something is happening that we have pay close attention to.”

Over the past two years, the University of Hradec Králové research team has added specialists from various faculties, and is now working on applying the data collected from the mattress pads for further research, including using artificial intelligence to predict developments.