Georgia Tech Research Institute Develops Sensor Vest to Help Prevent Asthma Attacks
Researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) have developed a vest outfitted with a sensor system that continuously monitors the air around persons prone to asthma attacks.
A battery-powered sensor system fits into the pocket of a vest and contains commercially available sensors that were integrated into a single system by Mark Jones, CEO of Keehi Technologies, which worked with GTRI on the project.
“The device weighs less than one pound including batteries and it takes a measurement of air every two minutes, stores the data in on-board memory and then sleeps to conserve battery power,” Jones said.
The new sensor vest measures airborne exposure to formaldehyde, carbon dioxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, temperature, relative humidity and total volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are emitted as gases from products such as paints, cleaning supplies, pesticide formulations, building materials and furnishings, office equipment and craft materials – the sorts of things that can cause an attack.
GTRI says that although it is not fully understood why certain people get asthma, doctors know that once people have it, their lungs can overreact to environmental stimuli causing an asthma attack.
“We are investigating whether we can go back after an asthma attack and see what was going on environmentally when the attack started,” said Charlene Bayer, a GTRI principal research scientist.
The sensor system is designed to be comfortably worn in the pockets of a vest throughout the day and kept at the bedside while sleeping at night. Another vest pocket contains an electronic peak flow meter to periodically measure pulmonary function. When experiencing an asthma attack, the vest wearer notes what time it occurred and Bayer can examine the levels of the chemical compounds at that time.
Six adult volunteers have tested the vest for comfort and the effectiveness of the sensor system under actual use conditions. And that has already brought benefits for one volunteer, whose vest detected higher volatile organic exposures in his home than anywhere else. That led researchers to discover a pollutant pathway from the volunteer’s basement garage into the living areas that was allowing automobile exhaust and gasoline fumes to invade the house.
This research was supported by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and initial funding from the GTRI Independent Research and Development (IRAD) program.