McMaster and Austria Connected by a Heart Beat

April 28, 2010

You can sense their energy when they enter the room.  Two, tall, fit young men with a friendly manner about them.  Both are eager to show off a new heart monitoring device their group developed.  They could be typical Canadian students.  But, they’re not.

Christoph Larndorfer and Reinhard Peer are exchange students from Graz University of Technology in Graz, Austria.  They have been studying electrical and computer engineering at McMaster University since September 2009.

Both independently chose to pursue a year of study in Canada and selected McMaster because of the exchange program established between the two universities, and because of the wide variety of activities available.

“It has allowed us to learn a new culture, improve our English, see how a different education system works, and what people in Canada are like,” said Reinhard.  “You need a longer period of time than one or two weeks to do that.”

Christoph and Reinhard both rave about the travel and adventure opportunities provided through the McMaster Outdoor Club.  They’ve toured the hot spots of Hamilton, natural and man made.  They’ve camped out in Algonquin Park, and visited Ottawa and Quebec City.  They went tubing in the Grand Canyon.  And in May they are going coastal hiking and sea kayaking for a week in Vancouver before returning home to Austria.  They’ve also gone off on their own to cities such as New York, Las Vegas and Miami.

But one of their main priorities of late has been completing their final-year project with two other students, Emily Lukes and Hanseul Choi.  Both are fourth-year electrical and computer engineering students.  Emily is originally from New Jersey but now lives in Hamilton. Hanseul is from Georgetown, Ontario

The four have developed what they call a contactless electrocardiographic (ECG) device.  It’s a skin-tight T-shirt with ECG electrodes sewn in that can monitor your heart rate.  The breakthrough is that the electrodes no longer have to be attached directly to your skin.  If you have ever been hooked up to an ECG device you’ll know the pain that comes when they tear the self-adhesive electrodes from your chest, stomach, arms and legs. 

But the four students see a lot more potential for their invention than eliminating a short-term discomfort.  They see it as a way to free hospital patients from their beds, providing greater independence and helping to speed recovery.  A small monitor is strapped onto a person’s arm allowing the wearer to watch their heart beat. 

Built in wireless transmitters will automatically notify a doctor or hospital if the heart begins to beat irregularly.  That will allow seniors to live at home secure in the knowledge that there is constant supervision. 

The group also envisions applications for athletes who want to monitor their heart rate as they train and compete.  The shrinking cost of electronics will make the sale of the ECG T-shirt economical for many applications. 

The ECG T-shirt was one of 60 projects by some 200 students on display in the university’s student centre on April 6 at the annual Poster Day exhibition organized by the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at McMaster.

While group work can sometimes be challenging the four seemed to have meshed well according to their supervisor, Professor Jamal Deen.

L to R: Hanseul Choi, Reinhard Peer, Christoph Larndorfer, Emily Lukes demonstrate their ECG T-Shirt invention.

Now you can actually wear your heartbeat on your sleeve thanks to a wireless ECG T-Shirt developed by four electrical and computer engineering students at McMaster.


“They bring complementary expertise to the project,” explains Prof. Deen.  “The projects are structured as if the students were working on a product in a company.  The students are each responsible for a certain area but some elements are shared.”

When asked how engineering education in Canada compares to Austria, both Christoph and Reinhard commented on the much heavier workloads students have here, that it is more theoretical, and much more rigid.

For the ECG T-shirt, Christoph was responsible for the electrodes, amplifier, digital filter and their integration with the power supply.  He was exposed to this technology while working on a co-op term for a medical company in Austria.  Reinhard had MCU, LCD and wireless transmission responsibilities as well as overall organization.  Emily worked with Reinhard on wireless transmission and was in charge of the power supply.  Hanseul had responsibilities tied to the ADC and MCU.  The integration of the separate devices required on going collaboration.

"We worked closely together," explained Christoph.  “We were constantly meeting to work out technical issues and to prepare our presentation.”

“In Europe there is a system of credits and you need to achieve so many points to qualify for what would be considered a Master’s degree in Canada,” explains Christoph.  “You decide when and how you want to study.  You choose when you want to take exams.  And it’s often easier to transfer with other universities in Europe.”

McMaster has exchange program arrangements with 71 universities in 21 countries.  For more information visit: http://oisa.mcmaster.ca/
student_exchange_programs.htm

As for the ECG T-Shirt it still has some development and testing needed before it can hit the marketplace.  But keep an eye open for it.  If it does hit the market you’ll know that it’s the power of a university exchange program that got it beating.

View the ECG T-Shirt video »


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