Making human internal processes detectable with sensor technology

Many processes in the human body are still not fully understood today. For this purpose, the Institute of High Frequency Technology is researching new measurement methods for the analysis of micro-movements on the surface of the human body.

The human body is also a miracle from an engineering point of view: chemical and physical processes influence our actions and moods, bodily functions react adaptively to changing environmental conditions and diseases, and damage are automatically combated and repaired. Many of these processes and internal control circuits are still not fully understood today. However, with the help of medical measurement technology, insights into certain areas of these processes can be generated.

However, this measurement technology is often associated with great burden for the patient. For example, brain waves or electrical heart excitation can nowadays only be measured with wired electrodes that impair free movements or natural behavior. Therefore, these measurements are usually performed only briefly and selectively, which results in a thin data base. However, there are also areas of bodily functions where a measurement is even distorted by their limiting nature and therefore little research data is available to date. However, many of these relationships manifest themselves in the form of direct or indirect movements of the body. Such as the beating of the heart tangible on the chest wall or typical movement patterns in epileptic seizures. This possibility of gaining an insight into internal processes of the body by movement observation has so far only been used very rarely.

The Collaborative Research Center SFB1483 Empathokinesthetic Sensing (EmpkinS), funded by the German Research Foundation, therefore wants to break new ground. "The vision is to better understand these inner connections through novel sensor technology for non-contact motion observations of the human body. For this, the human is embedded in a cyber-physical system, a mixture of real and virtual world" says Prof. Alexander Kölpin, head of the Institute for High Frequency Technology (IHF) at the Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH). The novel sensors capture macro- and micro-movements, feeding virtual models for parts of the human system. Based on this, targeted studies can be carried out to establish the relationships between movements observed without contact from the outside and internal states of the body. "A kind of virtual twin is created, fed by real measurement data, with the help of which it should be possible to make reliable forecasts about the state of health and also to monitor the success of therapeutic interventions," explains Prof. Kölpin.

In the SFB Empkins, more than 80 researchers from the fields of electrical engineering, computer science, psychology and medicine are working together on all aspects of this issue. The IHF of TUHH is the only external engineering partner of the Collaborative Research Center, besides a chair of the Technical University of Munich, which is otherwise located at the Friedrich Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. IHF contributes its expertise in the non-contact measurement of micro vibrations to the project.

Together with partners from the fields of psychology and medicine, interferometric high-frequency circuits are investigated to measure the smallest vibrations triggered by the heartbeat on the surface of the body without restricting the test person. This allows important parameters, such as heart rate variability, to be measured from a distance in clothed lying, sitting or standing subjects. Psychology researchers use this information to investigate the foundations of stress and the reactions to it, and also to obtain direct feedback on changes in the subject's mood during the treatment of depression. The medical researchers will use the sensors from Hamburg for their research into making the general condition and quality of life of seriously ill people undergoing palliative care measurable and minimizing the symptom burden for those affected.

Insight into the human body via contactless high-frequency sensor technology for the benefit of humans: A topic that the Institute for High Frequency Technology at Hamburg University of Technology is intensively researching.

More information:

Prof. Alexander Kölpin
Director of the Institute of High-Frequency Technology (E-3)
E: alexander.koelpin(at)tuhh(dot)de
T: +49 40 42878-3019


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