Irish chip breakthrough could prevent cot deaths

26 Apr 2011

Researchers at Cork’s Tyndall Institute have built a microchip sensor that can detect a person’s respiratory rate without any contact with the person under observation and could be a powerful tool in tackling sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

The chip allows for constant monitoring of babies in cot beds, hospital patients and other people at risk of obstructive apneas, including SIDS. It can be used also for the early detection of sudden sleep of vehicle drivers.

The sensor technology also enables several other important applications, such as facilitating the monitoring of patients in their homes, sending data in real-time to GPs and first-aid medical staff in hospitals. It can also be used for fitness (fatigue) monitoring and personalised healthcare for independent and healthy living. Despite its applications to the biomedical field, the microchip sensor can be applied to other civil applications requiring contactless detection of moving objects.

The sensor microchip consists of ultra-wide-band pulse radar, capable of detecting sub-centimetre movements. The radar sends short pulses towards the chest and detects the echo reflected in proximity of the skin. The output signal provided by the sensor is therefore sensitive to the chest movement.

Ultra-wide-band pulse radar

This is the first time that such an ultra-wide-band pulse radar has been integrated into a single silicon chip. The devices also operate in accordance with the most stringent worldwide standard regulations for medical devices.

It is the latest in a series of major breakthroughs at the UCC-based labs.

“This microchip is the result of a dedicated and highly-skilled research team at Tyndall National Institute who have been developing this microchip for some considerable time,” said Dr Domenico Zito, leader of the research team focused on the design of single-chip transceivers for emerging wireless technologies at Tyndall National Institute.

“We recently presented our work to the prestigious IEEE International Solid-State Circuits Conference 2011 in San Francisco and we believe that this microchip has the potential to make a profound impact on monitoring respiratory diseases, as well as reduce the number of deaths resulting from sudden infant death syndrome or accidents arising from driver fatigue. The microchip gives doctors access to extensive data recorded over long observation intervals, which will allow them to understand more about pathologies and their manifestations.”

The research carried out by Tyndall National Institute in developing this microchip has been funded by Science Foundation Ireland, the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technologies and the European Commission.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years