New sensors monitor patients’ breathing from under bed

Minebea has worked with IBM Japan and Chiba University to develop a way to track the respiratory status of hospital patients without hooking them up to equipment.

Bed-mounted sensors detect breathing disturbances by monitoring shifts in the body’s center of gravity. Minebea plans to begin trials in hospitals at the start of the new year and hopes to have a commercial product ready in fiscal 2016.

A person’s center of gravity shifts slightly when inhaling and exhaling. IBM Japan machine learning technologies identify the orderly pattern in this shift and distinguish actual breathing disturbances from changes for benign reasons, such as rolling over while asleep.

To develop a sensor that responds to tiny changes in the position of the center of gravity, Minebea repurposed technology used for high-precision rocket fuel tank sensors. The sensor units can fit under the legs of the bed and are easily removed.

With hospitals treating more seniors as inpatients, there is a growing need to monitor changes in conditions of patients even when they are not severely ill. At the same time, patients would rather not be hooked up to electrocardiograms and other monitoring equipment.

Hospital bed manufacturers have begun developing products with built-in equipment for measuring respiration and heart rate for patients and those in need of nursing care. These are expensive, however.

Minebea has not decided on a price for its system. But the sensors work with existing beds, making them relatively cheap to introduce.

The Japanese maker of machinery components and electronic devices will also market the sensors to nursing homes and for home care, hoping for sales of around 4 billion yen ($32 million) in fiscal 2020.

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