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John Benedict Estrada

Adarsh Ambati

Age: 16
Hometown: San Jose, CA

Engineering: “A Contactless Vital Signs Monitor using PhotoPlethysmographic (PPG) Imaging Infrared Sensing Techniques & Computer Vision”

About Adarsh

Hi, my name is Adarsh Sairam Ambati, and I am a rising senior at Archbishop Mitty High School. 

My academic interests are mostly environmental science, biology, and computer science. I love gardening and growing plants, especially succulents which I sell through my STEM education organization, Gro-STEMs. Whenever I find time, I like to play the flute and read comics. I ultimately aspire to become a Principal Investigator and have my own lab at an academic institution, where I can work with like-minded students and faculty to conduct research in environmental sciences/engineering, developing technologies that better the world and help protect our environment.

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"I am truly honored and elated that my project is considered among all the amazing projects by all the other Davidson Fellows. This recognition bolsters my confidence and propels me to further advance my project. It validates not only my work but also that of my family members, teachers, friends and mentors who were instrumental in the success of my project."

Project Description

I developed a contactless, low-cost, prototype that detects the five vital signs — skin-temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and blood oxygen levels(Spo2). The contactless feature helps reduce the exposure of healthcare providers (like the many that occurred during the COVID-19 outbreak), and the low-cost feature strengthens home healthcare systems— allowing for self-quarantining/isolation without overwhelming hospitals. Finally, the continuous-monitoring capability can help detect health abnormalities like Sudden Infant Death Syndrome that can be both fatal and unexpected.


If you could have dinner with the five most interesting people in the world, living or dead, who would they be?

Linus Carl Pauling, Carl Linnaeus, Marie Curie, Gregor Mendel, and Charles Darwin. I think it would be very interesting to participate in a conversation between Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel.

What’s the best thing you’ve bought so far this year?

I bought a Royal Flush Split Rock succulent. It is one of my favorite types of succulents because of its unusual shape and beautiful almost mesmerizing purple color. I can’t wait till it flowers because a beautiful pink flower with a bright yellow center will emerge from the center.

What is your favorite tradition or holiday?

My favorite tradition occurs during Ugadi, the Telugu New Year Celebration (which occurs in April). Every year during this day, I wake up early in the morning to help my mother make Ugadi Pachadi— a special dish that is made up of six flavors each with its own meaning and ingredient. The six flavors are sweet from cane sugar, acidity from raw mango, bitter from neem flowers, sour from tamarind, saltiness from added salt, and spiciness from peppers. The sweetness represents happiness. The acidity signifies surprises. The bitterness represents sadness. The sourness signifies unpleasantness. The saltiness symbolizes fear, and the spice represents anger. When they are mixed, they serve as a reminder that the upcoming year will likely have elements of all of these six emotions.

Deeper Dive

When I was in middle school, my mother suffered from unexplainable blackouts for six months that culminated in a 3rd-degree heart block. I was distraught to see my fiercely independent mother lying limp on a hospital bed helplessly hooked up to countless vital signs monitors. Unable to do anything to help her, I was overwhelmed by a sense of despair. After my mother expressed how being tethered to monitors made her feel even more helpless and depressed, I was inspired to build a completely contactless vital sign monitor that does not hinder a patient's movements. Later, during the Ebola and Zika outbreaks, reading about the risk that frontline healthcare providers faced further strengthened my desire to develop this contactless device. When I first started building the prototype, I focused on just the heart rate and body temperature detection functionalities. When the COVID-19 pandemic took the world by surprise, my device became all the more relevant as it can reduce exposure to front line workers through its remote, contactless monitoring features. Furthermore, as SpO2 (blood oxygen levels) and respiratory rates are important factors physicians consider when diagnosing and caring for COVID-19 patients, I improved the device by adding SpO2 and respiratory rate monitoring features.

While working on this project, I encountered several technical and non-technical challenges. The main technical challenges involved the development and implementation of heart rate and blood pressure detection. At first, the accuracy of the heart rate detection fluctuated wildly—after periods of being extremely accurate, the program would erroneously report a heart rate of 60 bpm. After careful evaluation of test results, I ruled out several factors that I initially thought were affecting the accuracy of the measurement, including image resolution, patient background, and participant skin tone. After much troubleshooting, I found the primary reason for the erroneous 60 bpm reading was the frequency of artificial light, which flickers at a constant interval. This constant interval is the strongest signal in the composite wave, so after the Fast Fourier Transform Technique, the program selected this signal as the heart rate. I overcame this problem by testing in natural light. My main non-technical challenge and the most difficult aspect of my project was recruiting volunteers to test my prototype. The process of enlisting the 48 candidates taught me the importance of clear and succinct communication. I learned to sell the importance of the project so that candidates would be more likely to volunteer their time and effort. I also had to overcome hurdles including assuring volunteers that the testing process was safe as the device is entirely contactless. Though difficult, the testing process proved very valuable because the participants provided great feedback from a user experience standpoint. As I conducted numerous iterations of developmental and testing phases, this experience taught me that the success of any form of research requires continued persistence despite challenges. Next, while I worked independently for most part, I received a lot of guidance from my brother, Vardhaan Sai Ambati and Johan Sosa, my mentor, DIY Biologist, & BioCurious Member. They helped me understand complicated research papers, provided debugging tips when I hit a roadblock, offered constructive critiques of my approach, and monitored me during testing. Members of BioCurious helped me troubleshoot coding issues, and Mrs. Thuy-Anh Nguyen, my high school Advanced Science Research Director, helped me prepare presentation material. While I received help from many different people, my school’s Biology teacher, Mr. Tom Motroni, provided the essential foundation of my biotechnology background. Finally, regarding the pandemic, I believe that it actually helped me improve my project. Although it did make it difficult for me to contact mentors or to gather participants for my trial, the environment it created acted as a catalyst, pushing me to increase the capabilities of the device, adding other vital signs monitors and even an app for long distance monitoring.

I believe that my project fills a true need. The device is a continuous and contactless monitor of all five vital signs that forms a comprehensive health picture of a patient. This vital signs monitor has four main features that demonstrate its unique ability to transform the healthcare industry and allow for significant contributions to society. First, the detection of the five vital signs allows healthcare workers to quickly create a comprehensive health profile of the patient. While there are already available vital signs monitors, most are not contactless and do not monitor all five major vital signs. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic taught us the necessity of monitoring blood oxygen levels (SpO2) and respiratory rate along with body temperature and heart rate to detect symptoms of infectious diseases, making this particular aspect of my device all the more important. In addition, monitoring vital signs can alert caretakers quickly if anything abnormal occurs in patients such as in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, which tragically kills 1 in a 1000 babies each year. Second, the contactless feature can provide invaluable protection against diseases to frontline healthcare workers. According to Kaiser Health News and the Guardian, over 2900 healthcare workers died from COVID-19 this past year due to exposure to infected patients. This device can protect this vulnerable yet essential class of workers because it reduces the likelihood that these workers are exposed to hazardous and/or contagious materials. Third, the contactless, continuous monitoring capability of the device ensures the comfort of patients both in hospitals and in home care settings. Comfortable monitoring is especially important for vulnerable demographics like infants, ill patients, and the elderly as evidenced by my mother’s own experience at the hospital. Fourth, while traditional patient vital signs monitors with continuous capabilities can cost upwards of $1000, this device costs just ~$130. The low cost of the device can help bolster the home healthcare system, and more people can utilize continuous monitoring technologies as it is much more accessible. In addition, my project has the potential to diminish the strain on the healthcare system and reduce overall healthcare costs. Especially in cases like the COVID-19 pandemic, this low-cost device can be used by healthcare workers to quarantine patients at home, while still monitoring their health— preventing hospitals from being overwhelmed, reducing healthcare costs, and limiting exposure (potentially saving the lives of frontline healthcare workers)!

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In The News

San Francisco – The Davidson Fellows Scholarship Program has announced the 2021 scholarship winners. Among the honorees are Apoorva Panidapu, 16, of San Jose; Bala Vinaithirthan, 18, of Danville; Franklin Wang, 17, of Palo Alto; Adarsh Ambati, 16, of San Jose; and Sean Li, 17, of Danville. Only 20 students across the country to be recognized as scholarship winners each year.

Download the full press release here