An estimated 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, and many aren’t even aware they have it. An engineering capstone project that records and correlates sleep apnea data took the top prize at the College of Engineering’s 2023 Craig M. Berge Design Day.
Snoring can lead to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which if untreated, can cause hypertension, stroke and heart disease. Snorpheus, a medical device designed by five engineering students on Capstone Team 23078, is worn at night to record snoring audio and sleep positions. It then processes the audio to inform patients and clinicians about what body positions and times of night lead to the most snoring.
While Snorpheus may have wide-reaching use, its first user was right here at the University of Arizona. Nirav Merchant, Team 23078’s sponsor advisor and director of the UA Data Science Institute, described himself as patient zero for the device. His wife, project sponsor Alpa Merchant, is a dental doctor who works in sleep apnea solutions, and believed he suffered from the disorder.
New biomedical engineering graduates Christine Carlson, Logan Deane and Nisha Rajakrishna worked with electrical and computer engineering majors Noah Butler and Evan Rains on the project. The students designed a wearable device for the chest, equipped with a microphone to record potential snoring. The device is then connected to external software that utilizes machine learning in order to identify problem areas.
“OSA is implicated as a disease on its own, but also with a lot of serious medical conditions like cardiac complications,” Rajakrishna said. “So with a device like this, we can get ahead of the negative effects of those disorders by training our patients to not sleep in those positions that will cause snoring.”
By using machine learning, the team didn’t have to manually listen through the eight hours of sleeping audio. Instead, the software was able to identify the data via spectrograms in just a few seconds.
“The students surprised me in the way they quickly picked up the machine learning parts,” Merchant said. “The students were so enthusiastic and hardworking in this project, though I feel they would have been more effective if they had two years to work on it. They had so much to learn so quickly.”
The team also created a website hub where clinicians can gather, analyze and process data from their Snorpheus devices. The hub even visualizes the data in multiple graphs and allows users to listen to the data. However, Team 23078 also had to keep in mind health and privacy laws while recording the audio and designing the website.
At Craig M. Berge Design Day 2023, Team 23078 won the $7,500 Dean’s Award for Most Outstanding Project, which recognizes the outstanding design approach and implementation, as well as system analysis and testing.
“It gave me real world experience that you don’t always get in college,” Deane said. “It really opened up my love of research and development and makes me want to pursue that more as a career. It also taught me more technical skills, specifically how to intertwine different disciplines.”
The project involved a combination of computer and biomedical engineering. Multiple members of the Snorpheus project said that the team was especially strong, and Deane won the Honeywell Award for Team Leadership at Craig M. Berge Design Day.
“My favorite part was the team,” Carlson said. “We were able to grow individually as learners and engineers, but also as a team and a collaborative unit.”