Engineering Minute

Engineering Minute – Wireless Monitors for NICU Babies

A team of researchers at Northwestern University have developed a pair of flexible, wireless body sensors to monitor babies in hospital neonatal intensive care units (NICU). The wireless sensors not only provide more accurate and precise information to health care providers, they are gentler on babies' skin, reducing the risk of infections and scarring. An added benefit to the monitors is that without wires in the way, parents can cuddle and touch their child unhindered, which is extremely important for physical bonding. The team's research was recently published in the journal Science



“We wanted to eliminate the rat’s nest of wires and aggressive adhesives associated with existing hardware systems and replace them with something safer, more patient-centric and more compatible with parent-child interaction,” says John A. Rogers, a bioelectronics pioneer, who led the technology development of the project at Northwestern University. “Our wireless, battery-free, skin-like devices give up nothing in terms of range of measurement, accuracy and precision — and they even provide advanced measurements that are clinically important but not commonly collected.”


From the Northwestern University article: "The dual wireless sensors monitor babies’ vital signs — heart rate, respiration rate and body temperature — from opposite ends of the body. One sensor lies across the baby’s chest or back, while the other sensor wraps around a foot. (The chest sensor measures 5 centimeters by 2.5 centimeters; the foot sensor is 2.5 centimeters by 2 centimeters). This strategy allows physicians to gather an infant’s core temperature as well as body temperature from a peripheral region.

Physicians also can measure blood pressure by continuously tracking when the pulse leaves the heart and arrives at the foot. Currently, there is not a good way to collect a reliable blood pressure measurement. A blood pressure cuff can bruise or damage an infant’s fragile skin. The other option is to insert a catheter into an artery, which is tricky because of the slight diameter of a premature newborn’s blood vessels. It also introduces a risk of infection, clotting and even death."


Read more about the wireless monitors for NICU babies at Northwestern University.