A team of researchers have developed a method of assessing the health and respiratory function of patients using the sensors of Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect. These sensors provide a 3D image of a patient’s torso that allows physicians to measure and evaluate patients’ chest movements.

The study, published in Medical & Biological Engineering & Computing, adds that the new method is as accurate as the spirometry test but provides chest movement information that will allow a more comprehensive disease diagnosis. Moreover, this is more affordable than current methods, with researchers estimating that the system will just cost £100 or AU$186.31.

“There are some conditions that doctors can’t detect or assess using spirometry such as collapsed lung segments or respiratory muscle weakness. However, our prototype allows physicians to make accurate assessments,” says lead researcher Christopher Golby. “It is also potentially very useful in assessing changes in respiratory physiology that occur during exercise. This is in contrast with existing systems which rely on data from one viewpoint.”

Three-D scan taken by the system, and how respiration is detected. Photo from University of Warwick

Three-D scan taken by the system, and how respiration is detected. Photo from University of Warwick

The researchers from the Institute of Digital Healthcare, WMG, University of Warwick and the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing, University of Birmingham and Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust (HEFT) tested their prototype consisting of four Kinect sensors on resuscitation mannequins, healthy participants and adults with cystic fibrosis. The Kinect’s infrared beam quantified the participants’ chest walls and the sensors enabled the team to measure their chest movements.

The current spirometry used to assess lung function does not specify the status of each lung area. These readings could be inaccurate, increasing the chances of making an incorrect diagnosis.

Illustration of Kinect system. Photo by University of Warwick

Illustration of the Kinect system. Photo by University of Warwick

Moreover, this requires patients to take the deepest breath, form a tight seal around the mouthpiece and exhale into the sensor as hard they can. However, children, elderly patients and those who have facial deformities and muscle weakness are incapable of doing these laborious steps.

Hence, the researchers say that the using the Kinect is a better method. As chief investigator Babu Naidu said, it is a game changer in assessment, diagnostic and monitoring techniques.

Theo Arvanitis hopes that this could pave the way to better treatment options. The team are planning to develop their prototype further with the newer version of Kinect released by Microsoft.