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Rights: The Royal Society, TVNZ 7 in partnership with the Ministry of Science and Innovation  
Published 9 January 2012
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The Bio-Harness™ developed by Auckland-founded company Zephyr Technology is a monitor that measures critical vital signs while you work or work out. It was initially developed as a ‘lab on a strap’ for athletes. Now it’s being used by emergency workers, first-response teams, soldiers, firefighters and others.

The Bio-Harness™ is a strap that goes around your chest. It measures critical vital signs (ECG, heart rate, breathing rate, skin temperature) and contextualises the information with the individual’s physical activity using an accelerometer (activity and posture). These vital signs are transmitted wirelessly back to those who are doing the monitoring and need to make critical decisions based on an individual’s physiological status.

In 2010, Zephyr Technology’s Bio-Harness™ was worn by all 33 of the Chilean miners throughout their famously successful rescue. Using information provided by the Bio-Harness™, doctors were able to determine the order in which the miners would be rescued. They were also able to determine the immediate treatment each miner received at the surface.

Zephyr Technology is developing the biosensor for use in clothing. This biosensor is being trialled in a biometric shirt developed by Under Armour, a brand of athletic wear for American football players.

The Bio-Harness™ technology is opening up the world of ‘connected health’ so patients can be monitored by their doctors wherever they are. This use would transform the expensive technology used to monitor vital signs into a technology that everyone can use.

Useful link

Find out more about Zephyr Technology

Transcript

VOICEOVER:
What’s the measure of life? It’s your heart beat.

VOICEOVER:
It’s the key sign of how hard you’re body is working to keep you alive – under extremes, underground, even out in space  – and one Kiwi company can tell you exactly how hard that is.

STEPHEN KENT:
We’re going to crank up the speed a bit for you now.

VOICEOVER:
Zephyr Technologies are an Auckland company that has developed the Bio Harness, to measure life.

STEPHEN KENT:
It’s a product that can measure your vital signs and we do that by using this strap here which has gossamer fabric sensors in it. We design these little bits of electronics here which stick on the side, and you wear this strap on the body and it can tell you about your heart rate, your breathing rate, your activity. So am I running or am I walking, your posture, am I lying down or standing up, hanging upside down from a tree. And it can also tell you your temperature.

Why we have 2 sets of equipment. Basically the gold standard for measuring someone’s respiration and ECG, is a monitor like this is a Spiro meter, and then an ECG machine. And so to prove that our device is as good if not better than one of those, we put on the gold standard device and compare it to our BioHarness. And that way we know how good our BioHarness is.

And what we’ve found actually through testing is a BioHarness, because of the algorithms we use in software, can determine heart rate often more accurately than the ECG machine because it’s more designed for the purpose.

All those wires moving round in the ECG machine are not as comfortable or not designed to touch the skin as well as the BioHarness will.

Basically the BioHarness is a lab on a strap.

VOICEOVER:
The BioHarness features a wireless transmitter for communicating with mobile phones or long range radios, so that the user can be monitored remotely from hundreds of meters away.

STEPHEN KENT:
We can see just from the BioHarness device, we can obviously see his activity, his breathing rate and his heart rate.

VOICEOVER:
The BioHarness is now on its third generation.
While it started with athletes, the BioHarness now saves lives.

It’s a medical lifeline for soldiers, rescue workers or fire fighters where a commander can tell immediately if anyone of the team is pushing their physical limits. It also detects activity level and posture, so they know if there’s a man down.

The 29 men in the Chilean mine disaster wore the BioHarness throughout the rescue.

STEPHEN KENT:
The Chilean miner, that thing came about through obviously the disaster happened and those guys are stuck down there.

The doctors were looking for a way, how could we monitor these guys and make sure they’re healthy and okay. We came to the fore with our solution.

This product was on basically all of those miners that were down the mine as they brought them up.

VOICEOVER:
The BioHarness is worn for long periods of time and in extreme conditions so it has to be comfortable as well as extremely tough.

CELINE COURTAUD
We do some drug testing, temperature testing, water ingress, vibration. For the water, we put it at 1 meter deep for half an hour. We throw it on the concrete surface 100 times and we check the electronic is still working and THE MECHANIC is still there. 

VOICEOVER:
Funding from the Ministry of Science and Innovation is now helping to integrate bio sensors directly into clothes... and led to a hook up with billion dollar US company, UnderArmour, for use in American Football.

STEPHEN KENT:
This is a compression garment with a breathing and heart rate sensor and accelerometer all built in.
What’s Zephyr’s trying to do is to bring physiology to the world, a lab on a strap. Take all that technology that only people with lots of money can afford and put it down to something that you can give to everyone.

Acknowledgements:
This is part of the Innovation Stories series produced in partnership with the Ministry of Science and Innovation, it featured on TVNZ 7 during the Spotlight on Science + Innovation month in August 2011.