Hotspot: Ram Dantu in the Zone

UNT Researcher's Mobile CPR App Reaches Approval Stage 


So, you’re standing there checking social media on your smartphone and look up to see your mom, dad, grandparent or a stranger having a heart attack!

You call 911, of course, but what if a mobile app on the phone in your hand could cut the response time from minutes to seconds? 

Photo of Dr. Ram DantuThat’s what Ram Dantu, UNT computer science and engineering faculty researcher, and his students have been working on since the National Science Foundation granted funding to develop flexible instruments and tools for research to understand and analyze next-generation 911 services. He's working on a mobile app to help you administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation correctly during a crisis.

When oxygen-starved brain cells start to die, death can occur in the minutes it takes an ambulance to arrive – unless a bystander starts CPR immediately! Following cardiac arrest, each minute without treatment decreases the likelihood of survival with good neurologic and functional outcomes. Of the 400,000 or so Americans who go into cardiac arrest outside of a hospital every year, only 6 percent survive the crisis. That low percentage might have something to do with the fact that only 3 percent of Americans learn how to do CPR each year.

Dantu’s work, which began in 2008, started with a group of researchers interested in 911 protocol and how it could be improved. Today, Dantu and his students are still contributing to the process of planning next-generation emergency information technology and communication infrastructure. Smartphone apps and wearable technology continue to make technology pervasive by interweaving it into daily life – and that includes life-or-death situations.

“Not by incident, but by accident,” Dantu said he discovered a local need for improved 911 services after talking with emergency-service providers in Dallas and Denton. Community call centers receive between 200 to 300 calls per week about a heart attack in progress or someone already in cardiac arrest – emergency services need help from bystanders.

Infographic showing that CPR saves lives if you act quickly.However, some people hesitate to administer CPR – 89 percent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest patients die because no one on the scene even attempted CPR. Press too lightly and the blood may not reach the brain; press too hard and you may break the ribs. Dantu's multidisciplinary research set out to help.

The smartphone used to summon 911 services is the very device that Dantu and his students have turned into a tool to help bystanders keep blood circulating until trained and better-equipped first responders arrive on the scene. They also have it programmed into a watch and the app gives the user instant feedback, guidance and instructions before and during the administration of CPR. If connected to a Wi-Fi network, the app also will send signals to a receiver for medical personnel to monitor simultaneously. 

According to the American Heart Association, a stunning 70 percent of Americans don’t know what to do if somebody is experiencing a cardiac emergency because they don’t know how to administer CPR or they forgot the exact technique. This is especially alarming since almost 90 percent of cardiac arrests occur at home — where patients depend on the immediate response of their family members.

Following an interdisciplinary approach over six years of research and development, Dantu's work required knowledge of mechanics, fluid dynamics, anatomy and physiology, signal processing and cloud computing. He credits many of his students for the thousands of measurements taken and research projects of their own in support of the CPR mobile app.

With the software app, a person can place the smartphone on a victim’s torso and the emergency operator can retrieve the victim’s heart rate, blood pressure and breaths per minute. The CPR monitor, which senses the compression depth, allows an operator or the app to coach the person administering life-saving compressions. If there is a larger accident or crime scene, the software also allows for the operator to control the zoom and lighting of a camera for a virtual assessment of the situation from afar.

Logo for the National Science Foundations: a world globe with icons of humans holding hands around the world; letters NSF in the center.After collecting clinical data, conducting extensive testing and taking thousands of measurements, and coordinating with medical experts, the multi-step approval process for the app is underway.

"With the current smartphone technology now in everyone's hand, we thought we could do a lot better than just audio calls," said Dantu. "We can actually transmit text; we can transmit images or video. We can revamp or transform the existing emergency dispatch protocols with a next-generation 911." The software also offers text-to-speech technology for clear communication and provides first responders GPS information about where an incident is taking place.

Improved methods for using 911 services, implementing 911 dispatch protocols, and measuring vital signs of a human by accessing mobile phone sensors are all part of Dantu’s project. The app is impressive – capable of measuring vital signs such as heart rate, breathing rate, breathing distress and blood pressure. A method for the differential estimation of blood pressure involves the synchronization of time between two mobile phones, locating an appropriate position for one cell phone and recording heart sounds, and recording video data from the fingertip of the subject using the other mobile phone.

Photo of a smartphone with 911 dialed in.Dantu’s additional research interests also include research related to

  • locating 911 callers
  • ensuring continuous availability of 911 services during large-scale emergencies
  • predicting emergencies
  • providing citizen alerts – reverse 911
  • improving inter-agency coordination.

The fundamental objective of Dantu's work at UNT's Network Security Laboratory is to study the problems and issues related to the next-generation networks.

Dantu expects to translate the results from his research on the infrastructure of his app to engineering guidelines and disseminate his results across government organizations and standards bodies such as the Internet Engineering Task Force, IETF, National Emergency Number Association and 911 centers.

Recently, Dantu was named a finalist for a prestigious Tech Titans Award in the Technology Inventor category that recognizes people or groups responsible for creating breakthrough ideas, processes or products that have advanced their discipline as a whole.

Dantu, who speaks five languages, teaches computer engineering and computer science at UNT and is the director of the Center for Information and Computer Security in the UNT College of Engineering. With an extensive background in the business world, his collaborative approach to the multidisciplinary research came easily and includes consultations with various professionals such as police, firefighters, respiratory and vascular physicians, ambulance crews and 911 call center staff. He has 15 years of industrial experience in the networking industry, where he worked for Cisco, Nortel, Alcatel, and Fujitsu and was responsible for advanced technology products from concept to delivery. During 2011, he was a visiting professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the School of Engineering. He also is the founding director of the Network Security Laboratory at UNT. Dantu has received several NSF awards in collaboration as the lead principal investigator with Columbia University, Purdue University, the University of California at Davis, Texas A&M University and MIT.

Editor's note: UNT Risk Management Services offers CPR classes. For more information, visit CPR/AED Training.