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'BabyBeat' computer system could battle SIDS

Israeli researchers develop system that sounds an alarm to wake the baby and alert the parents if an infant's skin tone changes enough to indicate a slowing heart rate.

sleeping baby
A. Blight/Flickr

The term "sudden infant death syndrome" is vague for a reason; it names the unexpected and inexplicable death of a child under age 1. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that roughly 2,500 babies in the U.S. alone die from SIDS each year.

While the cause of the syndrome remains unknown, researchers theorize that a big drop in heart rate precedes the death--which is why two students at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel have been busy working on a computer system that would sound an alarm should an infant's heart rate drop below a certain level.

Using what is described as a basic video camera with a home computer, the researchers added software which, while still being developed, actually monitors the baby's skin tone to detect a drop in pulse.

"Heart pulse affects the skin tone," Tomer Apel, who wrote the software with student Anava Finesilver, said in a news release. "This is such a minor change that it's not visible to the human eye, but it's still there. We have developed algorithms to interpret the discoloration recorded by the camera and translate them into pulses."

The students say that if their BabyBeat system (not to be confused with BabyBeat fetal dopplers) continues to perform as well as it has in initial testing, they will try to produce and market it as a way to both help prevent SIDS and monitor babies sleeping at daycare centers.