A new patent recently filed by Google looks to illustrate a device that has the potential to monitor a person while they are sleeping. The device is designed to make use of infrared technology and will fire infrared radiation at the sleeping person. The device will then be able to essentially measure the infrared radiation bouncing off the person and heading back to the device. Thereby, able to differentiate between the two signals. The idea being that the more the device performs this action, the more of a sleeping pattern that is able to be accumulated on the person. Which presumably will help to offer feedback on general sleeping patterns and behaviors. However, the patent goes a little further and begins to talk about being able to possibly infer breathing and heart rate patterns based on the sequences taken by the device.
What is even more interesting about this particular patent is that the device is designed to be a passive device. To clarify, there are already multiple devices which come with sensors included that are designed to monitor a person's sleep, breathing, and/or heart rate, passively. However, they are typically devices that are required to be worn by the sleeper. In contrast, this device is passive in the sense that it is distant from the sleeper and makes its observations and recordings by essentially viewing the sleeper. The patent even brings up this difference as one of the key benefits of this device. Explaining that contact sensors are prone to skew results of such behavior monitoring. For example, wearing such sensors can result in the sleeper feeling uncomfortable, which in turn, can result in affecting the sleeper's natural behavior during sleep periods. Effectively, not providing an accurate portrayal of what it is designed to do – an extraneous variable which could lead to confounding results. With this being a sensor that works at a distance, the general assumption is that it is less likely to affect the sleeper's natural patterns in an adverse way. Adding to the emphasis on this particular approach, is the actual use of infrared technology. As this device emits a wavelength that humans do not naturally see with the naked eye, it will have no affect on the person's sleep. To all purposes, the person would not be aware that it is even broadcasting a light.
The patent does also highlight a more serious issue that can be found with 'conventional sleep monitoring' devices and that is the importance of recognizing (and responding) to dangerously low breathing levels. Whether it is a child or an adult who is asleep, the general principle here is the same. This particular device (unlike conventional devices) will be able to connect to a home automated system and when the device registers an abnormal or worrying low breathing level, it will have the ability to either sound an alarm, or directly alert another family member within the home. Ensuring that a timely response is possible.