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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Intelligent neonatal monitoring based on a virtual thermal sensor

Abbas K Abbas* and Steffen Leonhardt

Author Affiliations

Philips Chair for Medical Information Technology (MedIT), RWTH Aachen University, Pauwelsstr. 20, D 52074 Aachen, Germany

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BMC Medical Imaging 2014, 14:9  doi:10.1186/1471-2342-14-9

Published: 2 March 2014



Temperature measurement is a vital part of daily neonatal care. Accurate measurements are important for detecting deviations from normal values for both optimal incubator and radiant warmer functioning. The purpose of monitoring the temperature is to maintain the infant in a thermoneutral environmental zone. This physiological zone is defined as the narrow range of environmental temperatures in which the infant maintains a normal body temperature without increasing his or her metabolic rate and thus oxygen consumption. Although the temperature measurement gold standard is the skin electrode, infrared thermography (IRT) should be considered as an effortless and reliable tool for measuring and mapping human skin temperature distribution and assist in assessing thermoregulatory reflexes.


Body surface temperature was recorded under several clinical conditions using an infrared thermography imaging technique. Temperature distributions were recorded as real-time video, which was analyzed to evaluate mean skin temperatures. Emissivity variations were considered for optimal neonatal IRT correction for which the compensation vector was overlaid on the tracking algorithm to improve the temperature reading. Finally, a tracking algorithm was designed for active follow-up of the defined region of interest over a neonate’s geometry.


The outcomes obtained from the thermal virtual sensor demonstrate its ability to accurately track different geometric profiles and shapes over the external anatomy of a neonate. Only a small percentage of the motion detection attempts failed to fit tracking scenarios due to the lack of a properly matching matrix for the ROI profile over neonate’s body surface.


This paper presents the design and implementation of a virtual temperature sensing application that can assist neonatologists in interpreting a neonate’s skin temperature patterns. Regarding the surface temperature, the influence of different environmental conditions inside the incubator has been confirming.

Thermography imaging; Neonatal incubator; Virtual sensor; ROI matching; Thermal signature; ROI tracking