Button-size wireless sensor can tell if you're nervous

Alps Electric demonstrated a new sensor that uses radio waves to detect your pulse remotely or through walls

Alps Electric has developed a button-size motion sensor that can detect when your pulse quickens from across a room or through a wall, then sends the readings wirelessly to a server.

Its projected uses include mobile phones that can easily take a person's pulse, portable medical monitoring gadgets, or tiny motion detectors in a security setting.

The Tokyo-based component maker demonstrated the device at the Ceatec electronics show in Japan this week. It emits radio waves at high frequency and measures how they change as they bounce off objects, so it can detect even slight movements.

At Alps' booth, the company showed how the sensors could measure heart rate or breathing from a distance and through wooden panels or clothing, as well as measure the speed of approaching objects, demonstrated by having attendees punch a wall-mounted sensor.

The devices are similar to the radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags used in wireless payment systems and passports. They can also encode data into radio signals and send them to remote receivers connected to servers.

Depending on the accuracy required, the devices can be attached to antennas and measure or exchange data at a distance of up to about 10 meters (33 feet).

The sensors do have a major caveat at this stage: they can't differentiate between objects or types of motion like breathing and dancing, so subjects must stand perfectly still for accurate measurements.

The company will begin producing enough of the chips to ship samples by spring 2012, with sales dictating production after that. It has not released a price.

The Ceatec show runs through Saturday in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo.

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