Dr. Ioannis Pavlidis
Associate Professor of Computer Science

photo by Jerome Crowder, Ph.D.
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by Noelle Heinze
Imagine if your computer could collect essential information about your health while you surf the Web, e-mail a friend, or pay bills. Thanks to UH scientist Dr. Ioannis Pavlidis and colleagues, the day may soon come when your PC partners with your MD.
Associate Professor of Computer Science Pavlidis and his colleagues and students in the Infrared Imaging Group have pioneered ATHEMOS (Automatic THErmal MOnitoring System), a computer system that was featured at Wired magazine’s international Nextfest Exposition in San Francisco as one of 100 new technologies expected to make a major impact in the future.
ATHEMOS can measure a person’s blood flow, pulse, and breathing rate using a heat-sensing element contained in a camera. The camera is connected to and controlled by a personal computer that runs special software, and because the camera can be up to several feet away from a subject’s face, direct physical contact is not necessary.
“This is one way that a computer can give back to those of us who spend hours in front of it,” says Pavlidis. Our computers could let us know if we need a break, if it’s time to take medication, or even if we should see a doctor.
“Chronic ailments, for instance, such as heartbeat irregularities, headaches, and anxiety disorders, often manifest themselves intermittently for short intervals in a random manner, involving any number of situational and environmental variables,” continues Pavlidis.
So, while a quick trip to the doctor may not reveal an underlying chronic condition, regular monitoring by ATHEMOS, in the comfort of your home or office, could unmask a health issue that needs to be addressed.
“An increased anxiety level, for example, can be detected when the temperature goes up around the area surrounding the orbit of the eye due to increased blood flow, telling us that our subject is experiencing some sort of emotional distress,” explains Pavlidis. “This periorbital area is the facial area affected the most from blood flow redistribution during anxious states.”
Thermal Images before and after subject is startled
There are other potential uses for this technology. Pavlidis and Mayo Clinic endocrinologist James Levine have already published an article describing how thermal imaging of the periorbital area may be used as a remote lie detector.
Running test subjects through a series of structured questions based on a mock crime, Pavlidis and Levine used polygraph tests and thermal imaging to monitor subjects’ responses. Guilt or innocence was revealed based on color changes (heat) in the face that were detected by an infrared camera. In that study, thermal imaging proved to be more accurate than the traditional lie detector test.
With applications ranging from medical monitoring to interrogation techniques and even sleep studies, in which Pavlidis collaborates with the Houston Veterans Administration Hospital, ATHEMOS has gained both local and national attention for its enormous potential.
Please visit http://ithaki.vcl.uh.edu/%7Epavlidis/ if you would like more information about Dr. Pavlidis’ research.
* Photo courtesy of Pavlidis and Levine. Thermal image analysis for polygraph testing. IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology, Nov./Dec. 2002.
© University of Houston 2004