Echolocation technologies can detect objects by measuring how long it takes sound to bounce off them. This is used to detect submarines underwater, but now to also measure a child’s breathing while delivering soothing, and sleep inducing, white noise.
Next week, researchers from the University of Washington will be at the MobiCom 2019 conference in Mexico to present their BreathJunior respiration monitor. The technology inside the device is loosely based on the Amazon Echo, a smart speaker that can talk and listen at the same time.
BreathJunior emits what seems like random white noise into the room, and at the same time it listens for the sound it generates to bounce back from nearby walls, as well as the sleeping child. Because the noise isn’t really random, using a bit of algorithmic magic, the system monitors how the returning white noise is slightly modulated as the sleeping child breathes in and out.
To help spot the breathing signal, it was important for the system to be able to accurately measure how far it is from the child and focus on the reflecting sounds coming from that direction. Since, like the Amazon Echo, the system has an array of microphones, it can triangulate where the child’s chest is after a few seconds.
The BreathJunior system was first developed using a mechanical model of a child, but was then tried with five kids at a neonatal intensive care unit. The system, which should run as an app or skill on existing smart speakers, showed great correlation with the in-hospital’s standard patient monitors. The system can also, naturally, detect the kids crying and moving about.
“One of the biggest challenges new parents face is making sure their babies get enough sleep. They also want to monitor their children while they’re sleeping. With this in mind, we sought to develop a system that combines soothing white noise with the ability to unobtrusively measure an infant’s motion and breathing,” said study co-author Dr. Jacob Sunshine, an assistant professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
“Infants in the NICU are more likely to have either quite high or very slow breathing rates, which is why the NICU monitors their breathing so closely,” added Sunshine. “BreathJunior holds potential for parents who want to use white noise to help their child sleep and who also want a way to monitor their child’s breathing and motion. It also has appeal as a tool for monitoring breathing in the subset of infants in whom home respiratory monitoring is clinically indicated, as well as in hospital environments where doctors want to use unwired respiratory monitoring.