[an error occurred while processing this directive] IBM Research - Zurich | News

Heart rate monitor calls cell phone for help

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Zurich, Switzerland, 19 December 2002—Zurich researchers, together with colleagues from IBM's Engineering Technology Services and IBM Corporate Design, have developed a small, portable, wireless device that measures heart rate and is able to sense when its wearer is in distress, then calls a cell phone for immediate help.

The "distress" signal is sent wirelessly via Bluetooth, a short-range, low-power radio technology that makes communication possible between personal digital assistants, laptop computers, printers and mobile phones. Now, for the first time, a heart rate device joins this list.

Heart rate measurement devices have been on the market for some time. They are especially popular with joggers and bikers and are generally worn strapped to the chest. These devices measure how many times an athlete's heart beats per minute. But the utility ends there. Now, however, in a technology demonstration, inventors at IBM have taken the device one important step further.

"We've not only built a new concept model but have actually demonstrated this first-of-a-kind device, proving it works," says Pat Toole, general manager of IBM Engineering & Technology Services.

A demonstration was given to more than 100 persons. During the demo, someone wearing a standard heart rate monitor chest strap was given a radio frequency relay device (about the size of a pack of chewing gum) and a personal digital assistant equipped with special IBM software. A volunteer from the audience, posing as a concerned relative or fitness coach, was given a standard cell phone equipped with sms (short message service) capability.

The relay device is very small, lightweight and "hands free," and is therefore perfect for runners or bikers who want to continue with vigorous exercise but have had certain heart problems in the past, creating a need to "watch and listen." When the person performing the demonstration reached the "at risk" level, the device instantly sent a message and the audience volunteer read the actual heart rate to the crowd.

"A device such as this that sends out an alarm could also be worn by an elderly person who might find additional comfort in knowing any significant heart-related episode would be reported," Toole said. "This could offer great peace of mind for those in need of assisted living."

This step forward in radio frequency wireless technology could be applied to a variety of other applications. "We could attach blood pressure sensors to such a personal mobile hub, or let it monitor blood sugar levels," says Dirk Husemann, who developed the software for the heart rate monitoring device at IBM Research - Zurich. "Another application could be a low-cost digital radio receiver attached to the hub. Also, by using technology such as IBM's ViaVoice on the personal mobile hub, we can provide 'Talking SMS', including an automatic call-back function."

Press contact

Nicole Strachowski
Media Relations
IBM Research - Zurich
Tel +41 44 724 84 45

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