Ordinarily, the lung function of patients with respiratory problems is monitored via a stethoscope, during a visit to a clinic. An experimental new vest, however, can do the same job throughout the day, wherever its wearer goes.
Known as the Pneumo.Vest, the wearable is being developed as part of the M³ Infekt project, which involves 10 branches of Germany’s Fraunhofer research group. The technology is currently aimed mainly at Covid-19 patients, although it could certainly be applied to other respiratory conditions.
Incorporated into the front and back of the vest are multiple piezoceramic acoustic sensors, which individually detect even the smallest of noises produced by the lungs. Because the location of each sensor (relative to the lungs) is already known, it’s possible to determine where within the lungs each noise is coming from.
Custom software records and analyzes all the sensor readings, and proceeds to produce an image of the lungs in which problematic areas are highlighted. That image can be viewed on a linked mobile device, and could even be remotely accessed via a secure server on the internet. This means that patients could conceivably be monitored while in their own homes, over extended periods of time.
“Pneumo.Vest is not looking to make the stethoscope redundant and does not replace the skills of experienced pneumologists,” said project manager Ralf Schallert. “However, auscultation or even CT scans of the lungs only ever present a snapshot at the time of the examination. Our technology provides added value because it allows for the lungs to be monitored continuously.”