"Imagine if your Wi-Fi router knows when you are dreaming, and can monitor whether you are having enough deep sleep, which is necessary for memory consolidation," says Dina Katabi, the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, who led the study. "Our vision is developing health sensors that will disappear into the background and capture physiological signals and important health metrics, without asking the user to change her behavior in any way."
Katabi worked on the study with Matt Bianchi, chief of the division of sleep medicine at MGH, and Tommi Jaakkola, the Thomas Siebel Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a member of the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society at MIT. Mingmin Zhao, an MIT graduate student, is the paper's first author, and Shichao Yue, another MIT graduate student, is also a co-author.
Katabi and members of her group in MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have previously developed radio-based sensors that enable them to remotely measure vital signs and behaviors that can be indicators of health. These sensors consist of a wireless device, about the size of a laptop computer, that emits low-power RF signals. As the radio waves reflect off of the body, any slight movement of the body alters the frequency of the reflected waves. Analyzing those waves can reveal vital signs such as pulse and breathing rate.
"It's a smart Wi-Fi-like box that sits in the home and analyzes these reflections and discovers all of these changes in the body, through a signature that the body leaves on the RF signal," Katabi says.
Katabi and her students have also used this approach to create a sensor called WiGait that can measure walking speed using wireless signals, which could help doctors predict cognitive decline, falls, certain cardiac or pulmonary diseases, or other health problems.
After developing those sensors, Katabi thought that a similar approach could also be useful for monitoring sleep, which is currently done while patients spend the night in a sleep lab hooked up to monitors such as electroencephalography (EEG) machines.