Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has received a grant from the US Army for the development of sensors that could save the lives of wounded soldiers by helping in the early detection of blood loss on the battlefield.

As part of a $1.5m grant, WPI will produce miniaturised wireless sensors and develop mathematical algorithms required to process signals from the sensors, enabling simultaneous measurement of seven physiological parameters, including a unique way to detect bleeding.

During the three-year programme, the institute will also install similar monitoring capabilities on smartphones, which could be used by army medics as handheld diagnostic devices.

WPI will collaborate with the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) for comprehensive validation of both the sensor and smartphone technologies during an observational study of trauma patients.

Sensors will be developed by WPI biomedical engineering department associate professor Yitzhak Mendelson’s team, while department head and professor Ki Chon’s team will be responsible for the creation of signal processing and modification of the technology for use on a smartphone.

The sensors will pass infrared and visible light through the soldier’s skin to measure the way different frequencies of light are absorbed by pulsing arterial blood, and the resulting subtle shifts are correlated to a broad spectrum of physiological parameters by a series of algorithms.

A built-in video camera present on the smartphone will then record the reflections.

Embedded accelerometers and a wireless link are integrated in the sensors to help a medic to measure body movement and posture, and also monitor soldiers’ health and react with emergency aid as required.

Throughout the programme the teams will continue development of hardware, software and algorithms in an effort to optimise the sensors’ size, durability and accuracy, in addition to validating varying system configurations using multiple sensors to analyse physiological signals from different parts of the body simultaneously.

Prototypes developed during the second year of programme will be evaluated by the emergency department of UMass Memorial Medical Center to monitor vital signs and detect blood loss in trauma patients.

The UMMS clinical team will also provide assistance in production of decision support tools for integration into the smartphone, and will respond as vital signs are measured providing a medic or first-responder with information to guide treatment.