Doktorandin Johanna Gleichauf hängt die Sensorbox mit unterschiedlichen Kameras zur kontaktlosen Überwachung in den Inkubator. Bild: Karin Gleichauf

The NeoWatch project

Around 15 million premature babies are born each year worldwide. In Germany alone, the rate is 9.0%, which equated to 215,634 premature babies in 2008. Babies are considered to be premature if born before the 37th week of pregnancy and often weigh less than 1500 g. These children need very intensive care. Therefore, until they can maintain their own body temperature, they are cared for in an incubator in a neonatal intensive care unit. Caring for premature babies is difficult, as it requires the babies to be connected to various machines and devices. These often present the nursing staff with great challenges, as the skin of the premature babies is very fine and sensitive.

This is where the research project NeoWatch comes in. Since September 2018, work has been under way to develop a system that can monitor infant vital functions, such as body temperature, heart, and respiration, without electrodes or cables. Through collaboration with the companies InnoSent and Corscience as well as Erlangen Children’s Hospital, Nuremberg Tech aims to make this possible by means of sensors and cameras, which will enable contactless examination, observation, and evaluation of the data.


In order to increase the chances of survival, premature babies require extensive and complex medical monitoring in the neonatal intensive care unit. The children are connected to the monitoring devices via a wide variety of cables, catheters, electrodes, and tubes. ECGs, pulse oximeters, ventilators, and blood pressure monitors are just some of the devices used for monitoring. All of these devices have one thing in common: the measurement methods require physical contact with the baby’s body. As premature babies are very underdeveloped, this can have fatal consequences, such as skin irritations, allergies, and pressure points. In the worst case scenario, the baby’s skin may even peel off when removing the ECG electrodes. Usually, the babies cannot maintain a healthy body temperature of 37°C themselves and must therefore be placed in an incubator that supports them with adequate warmth and moisture.

Thermocamera image of a premature baby in the neonatology ward, image: Johanna Gleichauf

Sensor systems

To resolve this problem, the idea is to install a sensor box with different cameras and sensors into the incubator. The appeal of this is the ability to cleverly combine the advantages of the various sensors and cameras. This should make it possible to detect heart rate, respiratory rate, and body temperature automatically and without any physical contact. The aim is to achieve a level of robustness at least as high as that of the current monitoring.


Achieving robust, accurate, contactless, and automatic detection of vital signs requires the development of complex algorithms. These can be broken down into image processing, signal processing, and sensor fusion algorithms.


Initial investigations on a baby simulator have shown that a structured light camera can be used to determine the respiration rate automatically and without any physical contact. The findings are set to be verified in a feasibility study in the Neonatology Ward of the Children’s Hospital of the University Hospital Erlangen.


Johanna Gleichauf, Christine Niebler and Alexander Koelpin. “Automatic non-contact monitoring of the respiratory rate of neonates using a structured light camera.” In: 42nd Annual International Conferences of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBC). 2020

Project participants and partners

  • Project participants from Nuremberg Tech

Project management: Prof. Christine Niebler

Research assistant and doctoral candidate: Johanna Gleichauf, M.Sc.

Final theses:

Master of Applied Research: Sven Herrmann

Student project groups:

1.      Juliane Bögelein, Michaela Gremer, Franziska Lösel

2.      Lukas Hennemann, Hannes Krauß, Janina Nitschke, Philipp Renner

  • Project partners

Contact at Erlangen Children’s Hospital

Dr Fabian Fahlbusch, visiting lecturer

Contact at InnoSenT GmbH

Thilo Lenhard

Contact at Corscience GmbH & Co KG

Dr Tobias Tröger

Contact at Hamburg University of Technology

Prof. Alexander Kölpin



The NeoWatch project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

Reference number: 13FH546IX6

Funding period: September 2018 – August 2022


For any further questions, please contact:

Johanna Gleichauf:

Christine Niebler: