Constant monitoring of vital health signs is essential in various clinical settings, such as intensive care units, aged care facilities, and safety monitoring situations. However, existing wired or invasive contact systems can be inconvenient or unsuitable for certain patients. To address this, scientists from the University of Sydney Nano Institute and the NSW Smart Sensing Network have created a photonic radar system that enables highly precise and non-invasive monitoring. Their research, published in Nature Photonics, demonstrates the potential for remote vital-sign monitoring and multiple patient tracking from a centralized station.

The newly developed radar system was tested on cane toads and devices simulating human breathing, successfully detecting pauses in breathing patterns. The advantage of this approach is its ability to monitor vital signs without physical contact, ensuring patient comfort and reducing the risk of cross-contamination, particularly in infection control settings. The photonic radar system utilizes a light-based, photonics approach instead of traditional electronics, generating and processing radar signals with wideband radio frequency (RF) capabilities. Lead author Ziqian Zhang explains that the system combines photonics with LiDAR (light detection and ranging), resulting in a vital sign detection system with high resolution and accuracy suitable for clinical environments.

Unlike camera-based systems that are sensitive to lighting variations and raise privacy concerns, the RF-based photonic radar technology enables remote monitoring without visual recording, ensuring built-in privacy protection. Signal analysis, including health signature identification, can be performed without storing information in the cloud. The system also offers redundancy through the simultaneous operation of radar and LiDAR detection, allowing one system to continue functioning in case of a fault in the other.

Conventional RF radar systems solely based on electronics have limited range resolution, while relying solely on LiDAR has penetration limitations. By integrating photonic and RF technologies, the proposed system maximizes the strengths of both approaches. The researchers aim to further develop this platform into a cost-effective, high-resolution, and rapid-response vital sign monitoring system for hospitals and corrective services. Future steps involve miniaturizing the system and integrating it into photonic chips for handheld devices, offering greater accessibility and convenience.

The non-invasive photonic radar system holds significant promise for revolutionizing vital sign monitoring, enhancing patient care, and advancing healthcare technologies.

By Impact Lab