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IMEC unveils heart monitor for athletes, elderly

The ECG necklace is able to monitor one's heart even in loud environments, and can transmit data wirelessly to a computer within 10 miles.

Mobile heart monitoring devices have tended to suffer from inaccuracies due to the nature of being, well, mobile; they've always had trouble dealing with inputs such as high-level noises and abrupt movements. The electrocardiogram, or ECG, necklace unveiled by Belgium-based IMEC at the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Conference in Minneapolis Wednesday boasts long-term monitoring of cardiac performance with astonishing accuracy.

IMEC's mobile heart monitor uses a low-power amplifier and 2.4 GHz network. IMEC

The necklace contains IMEC's proprietary "ultra-low power analog readout ASIC" (application-specific integrated circuit), relying on a low-power commercial radio/microprocessor platform. A heartbeat detection algorithm is embedded in that processor, and a second ultra-low power microcontroller transmits data wirelessly from the necklace to a computer within 10 miles. (If the computer is not within range, a memory module stores this data until it can be transmitted.)

IMEC, which partnered with the Netherlands-based Holst Centre to develop this ECG prototype, says the algorithm copes with baseline wander, electromyography (electrical impulses of muscles), movement, and sound. It achieved "best-in-class" performances, with 99.8 percent sensitivity and 99.7 percent predictivity.

While the ECG necklace could be used for the permanent screening of the elderly, and of people with cardiovascular disorders, healthy athletes might also find the data useful in measuring and analyzing their own hearts under the duress of extreme sport.

I can't help but pay homage to my former colleague and lunchtime running partner Bill Goggins at Wired magazine, who may have benefited greatly from this kind of technology. Just moments after waving jovially for cameras in the San Francisco marathon in 2006, the 43-year-old former deputy editor collapsed at mile 24 and died of apparent heart failure.

Development and further study of this prototype might finally answer the pressing question: could a mobile heart monitor actually save lives?