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Photoplythesmogram (PPG) Signal Reliability Analysis in a Wearable Sensor-Kit

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posted on 14.05.2019 by Deena Alabed

In recent years, there has been an increase in the popularity of wearable sensors such as electroencephalography (EEG) sensors, electromyography (EMG) sensors, gyroscopes, accelerometers, and photoplethysmography (PPG) sensors. This work is focused on PPG sensors, which are used to measure heart rate in real time. They are currently used in many commercial products such as Fitbit Watch and Muse Headband. Due to their low cost and relative implementation simplicity, they are easy to add to custom-built wearable devices.

We built an Arduino-based wearable wrist sensor-kit that consists of a PPG sensor in addition to other low cost commercial biosensors to measure biosignals such as pulse rate, skin temperature, skin conductivity, and hand motion. The purpose of the sensor-kit is to analyze the effects of stress on students in a classroom based on changes in their biometric signals. We noticed some failures in the measured PPG signal, which could negatively affect the accuracy of our analysis. We conjectured that one of the causes of failure is movement. Therefore, in this thesis, we build automatic failure detection methods and use these methods to study the effect of movement on the signal.

Using the sensor-kit, PPG signals were collected in two settings. In the first setting, the participants were in a still sitting position. These measured signals were manually labeled and used in signal analysis and method development. In the second setting, the signals were acquired in three different scenarios with increasing levels of activity. These measured signals were used to investigate the effect of movement on the reliability of the PPG sensor.

Four types of failure detection methods were developed: Support Vector Machines (SVM), Deep Neural Networks (DNN), K-Nearest Neighbor (K-NN), and Decision Trees. The classification accuracy is evaluated by comparing the resulting Receiver Operating Characteristic (ROC) curves, Area Above the Curve (AAC), as well as the duration of failure and non-failure sequences. The DNN and Decision Tree results are found to be the most promising and seem to have the highest error detection accuracy.

The proposed classifiers are also used to assess the reliability of the PPG sensor in the three activity scenarios. Our findings indicate that there is a significant presence of failures in the measured PPG signals at rest, which increases with movement. They also show that it is hard to obtain long sequences of pulses without failure. These findings should be taken into account when designing wearable systems that use heart rate values as input.


Degree Type

Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering


Electrical and Computer Engineering

Campus location

West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Mireille Boutin

Additional Committee Member 2

Alexander L. Francis

Additional Committee Member 3

Amy R. Reibman

Additional Committee Member 4

Michael D. Zoltowski