Utah State researchers estimate heart rates from video feeds

A team of researchers from Logan-based Utah State University patented a tool that estimates a person's heart rate without any physical contact, the university announced Jan. 29.

The contactless monitoring system uses a video camera and specialized software to estimate a person's heart rate. A typical video camera records images based on red, green and blue values, according to a Utah State University statement. The patented software analyzes this data for subtle color changes reflected from skin tissue to calculate a heart rate estimate.

"When your heart circulates blood through your arteries and veins, the light absorbed by your skin changes by measurable amounts," said Jake Gunther, PhD, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. "You can't see it with the naked eye, but when our system processes the images from a camera, the changes are obvious."

Dr. Gunther, who created the contactless monitoring system with his former student Nate Ruben, noted when the heart pushes blood into arteries near the skin, more green light is absorbed, meaning less is reflected outward. "Hemoglobin in the blood has an absorption peak for green light," he explained. "This means we see fewer green values in the images from the camera."

To build on their patent, Dr. Gunther and Mr. Ruben launched a company, Photorithm, to develop medical equipment based on the software. For example, a future version of the tool may be able to offer consumers a contactless alternative to baby monitors and exercise gear, according to the researchers.

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