One of the most challenging part of this project is to measure the heart beat (and then blood pressure)

Hear beat measuring is based on the principle of photoplethysmography (PPG) which is a non-invasive method of measuring the variation in blood volume in tissues using a light source and a detector. Since the change in blood volume is synchronous to the heart beat, this technique can be used to calculate the heart rate. Transmittance and reflectance are two basic types of photoplethysmography. For the transmittance PPG, a light source is emitted in to the tissue and a light detector is placed in the opposite side of the tissue to measure the resultant light. Because of the limited penetration depth of the light through organ tissue, the transmittance PPG is applicable to a restricted body part, such as the finger or the ear lobe. However, in the reflectance PPG, the light source and the light detector are both placed on the same side of a body part. The light is emitted into the tissue and the reflected light is measured by the detector. As the light doesn’t have to penetrate the body, the reflectance PPG can be applied to any parts of human body. In either case, the detected light reflected from or transmitted through the body part will fluctuate according to the pulsatile blood flow caused by the beating of the heart.

The following picture shows a basic reflectance PPG probe to extract the pulse signal from the fingertip. A subject’s finger is illuminated by an infrared light-emitting diode. More or less light is absorbed, depending on the tissue blood volume. Consequently, the reflected light intensity varies with the pulsing of the blood with heart beat. A plot for this variation against time is referred to be a photoplethysmographic or PPG signal.


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The PPG signal has two components, frequently referred to as AC and DC. The AC component is mainly caused by pulsatile changes in arterial blood volume, which is synchronous with the heart beat. So, the AC component can be used as a source of heart rate information. This AC component is superimposed onto a large DC component that relates to the tissues and to the average blood volume. The DC component must be removed to measure the AC waveform with a high signal-to-noise ratio. Since the useful AC signal is only a very small portion of the whole signal, an effective amplification circuit is also required to extract desired information from it.

A very useful source of information was this one, where I got most of the information I need to build a heart rate sensor.

However, I decided to make some changes to the original design to use a different light sensor: the TCRT1000. This is a reflective optical sensor with both the infrared light emitter and phototransistor placed side by side and are enclosed inside a leaded package so that there is minimum effect of surrounding visible light. The circuit diagram below shows the external biasing circuit for the TCRT1000 sensor.


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A fingertip placed over the sensor will act as a reflector of the incident light. The amount of light reflected back from the fingertip is monitored by the phototransistor.

The output (VSENSOR) from the sensor is a periodic physiological waveform attributed to small variations in the reflected IR light which is caused by the pulsatile tissue blood volume inside the finger. The waveform is, therefore, synchronous with the heart beat. The following circuit diagram describes the first stage of the signal conditioning which will suppress the large DC component and boost the weak pulsatile AC component, which carries the required information.


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The starting point for my experiments will be an adaptation of the original schematic of the Pulse Sensor module


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The basic idea is that the operational amplifier sums up Vcc/2 with the amplified DC component of the Vsensor

Vcc/2 is obtained through the R4/R5 partitor. The AC component is measured on the C5 capacitor. This signal is amplified by a factor of 330 (R1/R2). The RF1 trimmer will make it possible to fine-tune the gain