Non-contact heart rate monitoring utilizing camera photoplethysmography in the neonatal intensive care unit - A pilot study

L.A.M. Aarts, V. Jeanne, J.P. Cleary, C. Lieber, J.S. Nelson, S. Bambang Oetomo, Wim Verkruijsse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

181 Citations (Scopus)
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Presently the heart rate is monitored in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with contact sensors: electrocardiogram or pulse oximetry. These techniques can cause injuries and infections, particularly in very premature infants with fragile skin. Camera based plethysmography was recently demonstrated in adults as a contactless method to determine heart rate.


To investigate the feasibility of this technique for NICU patients and identify challenging conditions.

Study design and participants

Video recordings using only ambient light were made of 19 infants at two NICUs in California and The Netherlands. Heart rate can be derived from these recordings because each cardiovascular pulse wave induces minute pulsatile skin color changes, invisible to the eye but measurable with a camera.


In all infants the heart beat induced photoplethysmographic signal was strong enough to be measured. Low ambient light level and infant motion prevented successful measurement from time to time.


Contactless heart rate monitoring by means of a camera using ambient light was demonstrated for the first time in the NICU population and appears feasible. Better hardware and improved algorithms are required to increase robustness.

Vital signs;
Premature infant;
Skin damage;
Contact sensor;
Pulse oximetry;
Mother–child bonding;
Ambient light

Original languageEnglish
Article number89
Pages (from-to)943 - 948
Number of pages6
JournalEarly Human Development
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


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