The Future is Here, Thanks to Engineers [SURE Stories]

4 May

This post is written by UHP student and SURE Award winner, Sushmitha Rajeevan.

Engineers have always been the worker bees of science – bringing to life ideas and inventions that only existed in imaginations of people. That is precisely why good engineers should be able to apply all their four years of “book learning” to a real-world practical scenario. The engineering capstone project challenges students to do just that: create a functioning prototype that can one day be marketed as a completed device. The project marks the first steps for an engineer toward leaving an indelible mark on the world.

My team and I are currently working on developing a wireless human health monitor. The device – conceived, designed, developed and tested by us – will continuously measure and analyze a wearer’s vital signs without impeding his mobility. The wireless health monitor will remotely measure and record an individual’s heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, respiratory rate and orientation (body angle on three different axes) using a suite of sensors. 

The data from the sensors will be processed using a microcontroller (MC), which will convert the analog data to digital voltages, and will output specific temperature and orientation values. The data will then be transmitted to a computer through a ZigBee wireless link to a graphical user interface (GUI) created using LabVIEW software. The GUI will calculate respiratory rate, heart rate and blood pressure values, and will continuously plot all vital sign measurements for each patient as well as provide a specific value of the measurements. Most importantly, the GUI will emit visual and auditory alarms if the measured values fall outside the safe ranges of that vital sign. The GUI employs a tabbed format to display the data from multiple patients, and can transmit data to an external file to maintain a record. The device will take the form of a chest belt and ear clip. The chest belt will contain all the circuitry for the sensor suite, the MC and the wireless transmitter on a printed circuit board (PCB) and all the sensors; the ear clip will contain the reflective optical pulse rate sensor.

This device will have widespread applications in a variety of fields. It can be used by   physicians to monitor military personnel, firefighters, coal miners, and geriatric patients. The uniqueness of the device is that the wireless link will allow doctors to assess a patient’s condition when the patient is active or out of a hospital without a tether to a monitor. Even with a conservative estimate of the marketability of this device, we have determined a sale of a minimum of 140,000 units at a price of $400.00 a piece. The unique features of this device – wireless monitoring, coffles blood pressure measurements, retention of mobility – will greatly increase marketability.

The implementation and testing of the wireless health monitor required extensive work on both software and hardware components. The University Honors Program/Sigelman Undergraduate Research Enrichment (UHP/SURE) Award has supported and encouraged that in a truly invaluable manner. The award has mainly contributed toward the purchase of hardware components including: a reflective optical pulse rate sensor, a relatively new technology obtained from South Korea. Most importantly, the award has contributed toward the purchase of three PCBs – two made with DIP package components and a smaller one with surface mount components.  The award has also afforded the group a chance to truly develop the best project possible without financial constraints. When components did not satisfy the standards or needs of the project, the group was one of the few that did not have to hesitate in finding better replacements.

Without the UHP/SURE award, the scope and success of this project would have been significantly limited. To put is simply, the award and the incredible support of the UHP is, therefore, as much responsible for the current product as this team is.

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