Technology developed by A*Star can detect breathing difficulties
A HIGH-TECH baby monitor that can detect an infant’s distress has been developed and tested in Singapore. The device is more advanced than most commercial monitors which simply transmit sounds made by the child. The wireless, battery-operated foam mat is embedded with sensitive fibre-optic cables which are linked to a sensor system that monitors the infant’s motions. The device will send an alert to the caregiver’s receiver if it detects a baby having breathing difficulties or moving in an abnormal way.
The BreathOptics technology used in the device was developed through research by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star). The agency was studying the use of fibre optics to detect minute movements. These movements include even the most subtle made by the breathing of a premature infant weighing 1.5kg. In 2008, the national research agency licensed the technology to electronics manufacturer Excelpoint Systems, which spent two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to create a product around it. Excelpoint’s director for R&D, Mr Desmond Ng, said it approached the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) to help test the product last year.
Hospital staff carried out a six-month trial on 21 full-term babies and 44 premature babies in its special care ward. They monitored the infants as usual, using a combination of the hospital’s cardio-respiratory monitor, which is attached to the babies via electrodes, and regular checks by nurses. The results were then compared with those collected by BreathOptics. BreathOptics was more accurate than the cardio-respiratory monitor, but less accurate than if the baby was under a nurse’s constant observation. Mr Ng said the device could be useful for first-time parents unsure of their ability to care for their baby. KKH’s neonatology head, Professor Victor Samuel Rajadurai, added that the mat offers an effective and unintrusive way for parents to tell if a previously healthy infant is falling sick from a new lung infection.
This is because such infections usually cause babies to breathe faster, and BreathOptics should pick this up. The product is expected to go on sale in the second half of the year for around $300, said Mr Ng. Excelpoint is also working on a larger mat to help monitor the elderly. The global patient monitoring market is expected to grow to US$30.8 billion (S$39 billion) by 2017, according to a report last month by market research firm Industry Experts.