Researchers receive funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to capture vital signs via video.

As biometric systems – technologies which measure biological information to identify a person — continue to advance, their potential impact on health care capabilities surge. Via tools such as fingerprint recognition, face recognition, iris and retina recognition, and vein recognition, health care workers are provided with increasingly sophisticated ways to monitor patients.

Researchers from Penn State and Johns Hopkin University are working to develop additional capabilities by capturing vital signs of patients in resource-constrained environments with a device most Americans use every day – a cellphone camera.

Funded by an initial $100,000 pilot grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the project, "Non-Contact Estimation of Biomarkers in Resource-Constrained Environments," uses cell phone camera and computer vision techniques to capture patients' vital signs at distances of up to four feet away — a critical distance needed for highly contagious diseases like Ebola or tuberculosis.

Led by Conrad Tucker, associate professor of engineering design and industrial engineering at Penn State, the mobile application will register natural head and body movements, distinguish between different skin tones and lighting conditions, and capture vital signs such as an individual's pulse rate.

Collaborators at Johns Hopkins include Dr. William Checkley, associate professor of medicine and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Global Non-Communicable Diseases Research and Training, and his team of researchers. Jeffrey Gray, professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Johns Hopkins, played an instrumental role in connecting the Penn State and Johns Hopkins teams.

Mobile Applilcation

"Our mobile-based application seeks to expand beyond a 'wellness app' classification by the FDA, to an FDA-approved tool that can be used by patients and healthcare officials for measuring vitals at a distance and in varying environments and populations all across the globe," Tucker said. "This pilot grant is the first step towards this goal, as it will enable the team to evaluate the technology that we've developed in real-world settings involving hardware, environmental and societal constraints."

To test the proposed application in real-world situations, Tucker and doctoral student Sakthi Prakash will travel to India and Sierra Leone in December 2018 and March 2019. Testing locations were selected due to the team's hands-on experience in these countries, along with the opportunity to engage with a diverse group of individuals to test in varying environmental conditions.