IBM Develops Heart Rate Monitor That Calls Cell Phone for Help

Tiny, Portable, Wireless Device for Runners, Bikers, People "in Distress''

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ARMONK, NY - 17 Dec 2002: IBM said today it has demonstrated a tiny device that measures heart rate and is able to sense when the person wearing it is in distress, then call a cell phone for immediate help.

The "distress" signal is sent wirelessly via Bluetooth, a short-range, low-power radio technology that makes communication possible between personal digital assistants, laptop computers, printers and mobile phones -- and now, for the first time, the heart rate device joins this list.

There have been heart rate measurement devices on the market for some time. They are especially popular with joggers and bikers and generally are worn strapped to the chest. These devices measure how many times an athlete's heart beats per minute. But the utility ends there. Now, however, in a technology demonstration, inventors at IBM have taken the device one important step further.

"We've not only built a new concept model but have actually demonstrated this first-of-a-kind device, proving it works," said Pat Toole, general manager of IBM Engineering & Technology Services.

That demonstration took place in front of more than 100 people. During the demo, someone wearing a standard heart rate monitor chest strap was given a radio frequency relay device (about the size of a pack of chewing gum) and a personal digital assistant with special IBM software. A volunteer from the audience, posing as a concerned relative or fitness coach, was given a standard cell phone with what is known as short message service capability.

The relay device is very small, lightweight and "hands-free," perfect for runners or bikers who want to continue with vigorous exercise but have had certain heart problems in the past, creating a need to "watch and listen." When the person performing the demonstration reached the "at risk" level the device instantly sent a message and the audience volunteer read the actual heart rate to the crowd.

"A device such as this that sends out an alarm also could be worn by an elderly person who might find additional comfort in knowing any significant heart-related episode would be reported," Toole said. "This could offer great peace of mind for those in need of assisted living."

IBM said this step forward in radio frequency wireless technology could be applied in a variety of other applications, such as incorporating it into a running shoe to track exercise data and then share that collected data with team mates and coaches on an Internet web site.