Sensors (Basel). 2021 Feb 21;21(4):1495. doi: 10.3390/s21041495.
Infrared thermography for camera-based skin temperature measurement is increasingly used in medical practice, e.g., to detect fevers and infections, such as recently in the COVID-19 pandemic. This contactless method is a promising technology to continuously monitor the vital signs of patients in clinical environments. In this study, we investigated both skin temperature trend measurement and the extraction of respiration-related chest movements to determine the respiratory rate using low-cost hardware in combination with advanced algorithms. In addition, the frequency of medical examinations or visits to the patients was extracted. We implemented a deep learning-based algorithm for real-time vital sign extraction from thermography images. A clinical trial was conducted to record data from patients on an intensive care unit. The YOLOv4-Tiny object detector was applied to extract image regions containing vital signs (head and chest). The infrared frames were manually labeled for evaluation. Validation was performed on a hold-out test dataset of 6 patients and revealed good detector performance (0.75 intersection over union, 0.94 mean average precision). An optical flow algorithm was used to extract the respiratory rate from the chest region. The results show a mean absolute error of 2.69 bpm. We observed a computational performance of 47 fps on an NVIDIA Jetson Xavier NX module for YOLOv4-Tiny, which proves real-time capability on an embedded GPU system. In conclusion, the proposed method can perform real-time vital sign extraction on a low-cost system-on-module and may thus be a useful method for future contactless vital sign measurements.