Webcam or your friendly doctor?

by · October 11, 2010

At some point in your online life you have probably used a web camera. It’s an easy enough tool to use and fairly cheap nowadays.  And of course the personalization it brings to online chatting, Voice over Internet Protocol (Voice over IP, VoIP) telephone calls, is awesome. To some it is reassuring that the person you are chatting with is a real entity and not just some weirdo hiding behind the façade of cyber world.

Now what would you say if someone you were chatting with online – out of the blue – said, “dude, you’re heart rate is abnormally low, do you need to see a doctor?” You’d probably freak and think of that guy as a psycho. But what if your pulse was really beating below the normal levels? Well, you’d thank your friend on the other end of the fiber optic cable for saving your life – after the doctors had done their job that is.

The above scenario is not far off from reality. A PhD candidate at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology,  Ming-Zher Poh, has already figured out how to determine if your heart is healthy just by looking at you via a webcam.  As Poh explains in the below video his simple technology is a fantastic way to keep track of your health just by using a webcam or cell phone camera.   Poh used an open-source face-tracking program to “make the camera learn” to measure slight variations in brightness produced by the flow of blood through blood vessels in the face.

According to, the webcam was able to come to the same results as FDA-approved technological devices. The journal Optics Express outlines the initial results of the research Poh conducted with his Professor Rosalind Picard and another student Daniel McDuff.

The next step: effective adoption of this simple but useful technology by hospitals, day care institutions and maybe even a new form of lie detection!  Oh and Poh? As this article on CNET announced, he’s already working on adding respiration, blood oxygen levels, and blood pressure to the list – all by having people simply peer into a camera.

Post By Anirudh Sharma (38 Posts)


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