The Royal Academy of Engineering is to present this year’s Colin Campbell Mitchell Award to three Oxford-based researchers who have developed an innovative, non-contact health monitoring technology capable of observing a patient’s vital signs via a standard digital video camera. The team, who work for University of Oxford spin-out company Oxehealth, will be presented with the prize at the Academy’s Research Forum on 4 September.

Oxecam technology uses standard digital video cameras to monitor people’s vital signs, including their heart rate and breathing rate, by tracking micro-movements or colour changes on the body without the need for contact sensors or invasive wires attached to the patient. The software processes data from an off-the-shelf digital video camera equipped with infra-red illumination so that the monitoring works equally well in darkness. Heart rate is measured by detecting small, visually-imperceptible changes in reflected light that occur with each heartbeat, and cameras can monitor a subject who may be anywhere in the room (not just lying in bed) or even covered by a blanket. The system runs unobtrusively and provides alerts and information to those responsible for the person’s care.

The team, led by Dr Oliver Gibson, Dr Simon Jones, and PhD student Nic Dunkley combined their skills in computer vision, signal processing and machine learning to file 14 patents for Oxecam.

In the process of creating the Oxecam system, the team identified several real-world problems that the technology would be able to solve, such as monitoring detainees held in police custody or secure mental health institutions. In these settings, detainees cannot be monitored by conventional means, as wearable sensors could be used as a weapon or for self-harm. The current practice is for staff to look through a cell door hatch periodically to determine whether the detainee is healthy, but this can be difficult, especially when a subject is asleep at night. Opening the hatch and turning the light on to make this assessment disturbs the detainee’s sleep as often as every 15 minutes. Incidents that occur between checks might also go unnoticed. Oxecam overcomes these issues and has been strongly welcomed by staff and patients in secure mental health settings, and by police detention officers.

Responding to the news of the decision to award the Oxehealth innovation the Colin Campbell Mitchell Award, Oxehealth’s Research Lead Oliver Gibson said, “This award is a tremendous honour for the whole Oxehealth team. We are all immensely proud to have developed this technology from early prototypes to products which meet crucial real-world needs. It’s very exciting to see our solutions starting to help clinicians and carers. We’ve designed these tools to support the care of some of the most vulnerable patients in the healthcare system in settings ranging from mental health to general hospitals, home care and police and prison custody.”

Oxehealth was spun out of Oxford University’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering five years ago, taking inspiration from case studies of non-invasive monitoring of neonatal babies and dialysis patients at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. The team have successfully completed four collaborative projects, two each with the Metropolitan Police and Broadmoor High Security Hospital and are now beginning to install commercial deployments into police, mental health, acute, prison and homecare settings. The technology is currently being deployed in 97 rooms across five sites in police and mental health institutions, with a further 218 rooms across another 20 sites currently under discussion across the UK. There has also been strong interest from European and US institutions, showing global potential.

Former Acting Director of Research for the NHS, Professor Sir Malcolm Green FMedSci said: “Oxehealth's camera-based monitoring, the Oxecam, is astonishing in the accuracy and reliability with which it can monitor heart rate and breathing frequency, the two core vital signs, as well as patient movement. This technology has the potential to underpin and even replace routine nurse measurements, improving accuracy and freeing up valuable nursing time.  Staff can also be alerted if the signs go outside normal range, or if the patient has unexpectedly got out of bed and is at risk of a fall. The Oxecam is well suited to clinical workflows, and has been enthusiastically welcomed for trial by clinical staff at the Royal Brompton Hospital. The achievements of Oxecam’s engineers make them worthy winners of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Colin Campbell Mitchell Award.”

Notes for editors

  1. Colin Campbell Mitchell Award. Awarded to an individual or team of up to six engineers either working or studying in the UK. It will be awarded for having made the greatest contribution to the advancement of any field of engineering within the period of the four years prior to the making of the award. A cash prize of £3,000 will be awarded to an individual, up to a maximum of £6,000 for a team. 

    The Award commemorates the life and work of one of Scotland's most accomplished marine engineers. Edinburgh-born Colin Campbell Mitchell OBE FRSE (1904-69) had a long and distinguished career with Brown Brothers Engineering where he pioneered the development of the steam catapult for use on aircraft carriers.
  2. Royal Academy of Engineering. As the UK’s national academy for engineering, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering. We provide analysis and policy support to promote the UK’s role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK’s world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering. We are a national academy with a global outlook.

    We have four strategic challenges:
    - Make the UK the leading nation for engineering innovation
    - Address the engineering skills crisis
    - Position engineering at the heart of society
    - Lead the profession

For more information, please contact:
Aaron Boardley at the Royal Academy of Engineering
T: 020 7766 0655
E: Aaron Boardley