AI health

The stethoscope, a device almost synonymous with the medical profession, may soon be going the way of the slide rule, thanks to an innovative laser camera that can read a person’s heartbeat from a distance to detect cardiovascular diseases. The laser camera uses a combination of AI and quantum technology was developed by researchers at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

The laser camera’s relatively small size encourages widespread use outside of the doctor’s office, says Professor Danielle Faccio of the university’s Advanced Research Center. The laser camera might be deployed in booths in shopping malls, for example, or installed in a person’s home for those who need frequent monitoring.

Being able to check a person’s heartbeat from a distance is a valuable tool, as it would be able to assess heartbeat irregularities and murmurs that might provide a warning that a heart attack or stroke is imminent.

The system uses a high-speed camera that is able to record images at a speed of 2000 frames per second. A laser beam shines on a person’s throat. The reflection provides a measurement of how much the person’s skin is rising or falling as their main artery expands and contracts as blood flows through it—data calculated by movements of only a few billionths of a meter.

AI comes into play by being able to filter out competing vibrations like breathing. The AI knows the frequency range of the human heartbeat so it concentrates its efforts there. Analysis allows for comparison of a patient’s heart rate over time rather than just relying on a statistical average for a population.

The laser camera would replace the stethoscopes used by physicians ever since French surgeon Rene Laennec invented the device in the 19th century so he wouldn’t have to place his ear on female bodies.

Faccio’s team has launched a start-up called LightHearted AI and is seeking investors to expand development.

Faccio notes that the system also is applicable for biometric identification, as it can identify a person simply by shining a laser on a person’s throat. A somewhat similar device called Jetson was developed for that purpose for U.S Special Forces in 2019.

The Jetson could identify people by their unique cardiac signature using a laser at a range of about 220 yards. Jetson uses a technique called laser vibrometry to detect surface movement caused by heartbeats and works through a shirt or light jacket. The technology would likely be used in conjunction with other biometric data to confirm or compile an identity profile.