VR headsets to measure heart rate and respiratory frequency

New research from Politecnico di Milano reveals on Sensors journal


A team of researchers of Politecnico di Milano has shown for the first time that it is possible to use inertial sensors accelerometers and gyroscopes – embedded in a commercial virtual reality headset to measure without any other sensor some vital parameters, such as heart rate and respiratory frequency.

This is performed measuring the head micro movements, provoked at each cardiac beat by the blood flowing through the head, not visible with your bare eyes but detected by the inertial sensors, and by the respiratory activity, perceived also at head level.

This study, developed in collaboration wiht Softcare Studios – an innovative Italian startup working in the development of virtual reality experiences for health applications – has been recently published on Sensors, the main international open access and peer-reviewed scientific journal on science and technology of sensors and biosensors.

The experimental protocol included for each subject the data acquisition in different postures (sit, stand and supine), during spontaneous or controlled (at imposed specific frequencies) breathing, while wearing the virtual reality headset in which a neutral scenario was projected, and the synchronous acquisition of a reference electrocardiogram.

By opportunely processing these signals, it has been shown that we can obtain reliable heart rate and respiratory frequency measures, that in prerspective could be used to obtain information on the sympathovagal balance of cardiac activation, and thus on the level of stress or relaxation induced through the immersion in the virtual reality experience.

explains Professor Enrico Caiani from Take Care Lab, at the Department of Electronics, Information and Bioengineering of Politecnico di Milano.

These results open new perspectives and possibilities in using virtual reality headsets to measure without any other sensor and everywhere these physiological parameters. The headset could measure in real-time how the subject reacts and modify accordingly the virtual experience to help reaching the expected goals.

The study
Floris, C.; Solbiati, S.; Landreani, F.; Damato, G.; Lenzi, B.; Megale, V.; Caiani, E.G.
Feasibility of Heart Rate and Respiratory Rate Estimation by Inertial Sensors Embedded in a Virtual Reality Headset.
Sensors 202020, 7168.
The study online