A user measures her breathing by placing her mobile phone in a designated area on her chest.
 A user measures her breathing by placing her mobile phone in a designated area on her chest. Image: University of Oulu

Finnish research develops respiratory test app

Scientists at the University of Oulu have developed a mobile respiratory measurement app that employs the sensors of a mobile phone to detect anomalies in a person’s breathing.

Samuli Ojala


Traditional respiratory measurements are conducted with a plethysmograph, making them time-consuming, expensive and usually available in large hospitals only. The innovation, currently titled the respiratory effort test, provides an easy and cost-effective alternative to traditional methods.

“We wanted to create a quick, easy and affordable way to measure the ease or difficulty of breathing,” said Tapio Seppänen, professor of biomedical technology and head of the physiological signal analysis group at the University of Oulu. “We explored the possibilities of using a mobile phone to measure respiration. Today’s mobile phones contain many sensors and advanced measurement technology, making them a versatile measuring tool.”

The app cuts the measurement time from an hour to a matter of minutes. It also enables easy measurements in different locations, providing better data on the air quality in one’s home or workplace. The data is analysed by the app’s AI-powered analytics.

“The application recognises patterns in the respiratory event, that is, the machine is taught how to find a pattern reliably,” explains Seppänen. “The application also instructs the user on how to take the measurement correctly. In other words, a person has dialogue with a machine.”

The app has entered the clinical trial phase only recently but has already produced promising results from a trial at Seinäjoki Central Hospital. The trials will continue in the coming years, after which the research team are hoping to get the app on the market. They also have a global patent pending for the app.

“Clinical testing lasts for years, as this is a medical device. We are now looking for funding for the validation phase,” said Seppänen and his fellow researcher Niina Palmu.

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