Design and Validation of a Breathing Detection System for Scuba Divers

Sensors (Basel). 2017 Jun 9;17(6):1349. doi: 10.3390/s17061349.


Drowning is the major cause of death in self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA) diving. This study proposes an embedded system with a live and light-weight algorithm which detects the breathing of divers through the analysis of the intermediate pressure (IP) signal of the SCUBA regulator. A system composed mainly of two pressure sensors and a low-power microcontroller was designed and programmed to record the pressure sensors signals and provide alarms in absence of breathing. An algorithm was developed to analyze the signals and identify inhalation events of the diver. A waterproof case was built to accommodate the system and was tested up to a depth of 25 m in a pressure chamber. To validate the system in the real environment, a series of dives with two different types of workload requiring different ranges of breathing frequencies were planned. Eight professional SCUBA divers volunteered to dive with the system to collect their IP data in order to participate to validation trials. The subjects underwent two dives, each of 52 min on average and a maximum depth of 7 m. The algorithm was optimized for the collected dataset and proved a sensitivity of inhalation detection of 97.5% and a total number of 275 false positives (FP) over a total recording time of 13.9 h. The detection algorithm presents a maximum delay of 5.2 s and requires only 800 bytes of random-access memory (RAM). The results were compared against the analysis of video records of the dives by two blinded observers and proved a sensitivity of 97.6% on the data set. The design includes a buzzer to provide audible alarms to accompanying dive buddies which will be triggered in case of degraded health conditions such as near drowning (absence of breathing), hyperventilation (breathing frequency too high) and skip-breathing (breathing frequency too low) measured by the improper breathing frequency. The system also measures the IP at rest before the dive and indicates with flashing light-emitting diodes and audible alarm the regulator malfunctions due to high or low IP that may cause fatal accidents during the dive by preventing natural breathing. It is also planned to relay the alarm signal to underwater and surface rescue authorities by means of acoustic communication.

Keywords: breathing monitor; continuous monitoring; diving; drowning; hypercapnia; hyperventilation; inhalation detection; skip-breathing; two-stage regulator.

Publication types

  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Diving*
  • Humans
  • Respiration