Drones can now measure heart and breathing rates in patients

Drones could be used to read vital stats of casualties in war zones and natural disasters, according to researchers who have trialled the new technology.

Equipped with specially created algorithms and image processing software, drones could eventually survey several people at once in situations where sending in medics could be dangerous.

The technology could even be deployed inside nursing homes and hospital wards to monitor existing patients.

(University of South Australia)
Researchers from the University of South Australia trialled the use of unmanned drones under a collaborative agreement with the Defence Science and Technology (DST) Group, reading vital stats at a distance of three metres from people aged between two and 40 years old. All were healthy.

The readings taken via drone – by detecting movements in human faces and necks in order to accurately source heart and breathing rates – were as accurate as traditional methods.

PhD students working under Professor Javaan Chahl carried out the work.

Chahl said: “This is the first time that video from a hovering UAV has been used to measure cardiorespiratory signals.”

As the technology is refined, Chahl expects the drones to be able to measure stats of patients from a further distance, and multiple patients at once.

(University of South Australia)
“I expect we will be using this software in everyday life in the next decade,” Chahl added.

The technology could even be used in public places to weed out potential terrorists in the time before an attack.

Chahl, a professor of sensor systems in the university’s School of Engineering, said: “A person who is about to engage in violence will probably have anomalous behaviour and physiological signs.

“They might be highly agitated or unnaturally calm and in many cases they might be under the influence of drugs. There is a good chance that our system can detect these anomalies.

“Obviously there are privacy and ethical issues around this technology that need to be resolved before it becomes common practice, but there is enormous potential to use machine vision systems to benefit society, particularly in the biomedical sphere.”

The research was published in Biomedical Engineering Online.

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