A ‘smartphone’ based defibrillator

Published in the Jan-Feb 2011 issue of Science Spin

Eighteen people die from cardiac arrest every day in Ireland, with two per week under the age of 35, and a whopping 70 per cent of those die outside hospital.

That’s according to figures from the Sudden Cardiac Death Support Group. This means there is a significant number of people that collapse from sudden cardiac arrest at home, on the street, playing football, or any number of places.

These people may have had a chance of survival if a defibrillator device was applied to them quickly to get their heart going again, but that wasn’t available. Therefore, the idea of two Belvedere College students, Owen Killian and Lucas Grange [both pictured here outside their school- Owen is on the right] to use a mobile phone as a defibrillator is a potentially life saving one.

The idea is that when someone collapses, a person – ideally with medical training – would arrive on the scene carrying their smartphone defibrillator. The first thing the smartphone user would do would be to attach a small peripheral device, a little larger than a matchbox in size, to their phone.

This device would have electrodes already attached and ready to go, and it would easily fit into a coat pocket, doctor’s bag, or someone’s briefcase. The operator would then attach pads to the person in trouble, and a special phone ‘app’ would be opened that would analyse the rhythm of the heart.

At the same time, a call could be made to the emergency services to inform them of the situation and ensure that they would arrive for backup if required. The phone then comes back with a reading which tells the operative if the heart rhythm is ‘shockable’ or not. If the answer is yes, the device applies the shock, and talks the user – if a non medical professional – through the use of CPR (cardio pulmonary resuscitation).

Owen Killian said that there are other AEDs (automated external defibrillator) on the market, but they are not light, with the lightest right now being 400g. The Belvedere lads say that their AED is much lighter than what is available right now, cheaper, simpler, more portable, and not designed just for doctors’ use.

The boys have ambitions to develop their AED into a real world commercial product, and they have got it as far as the ‘proof of concept’ stage just now. At the moment they are working on developing the parameters for the device to analyse heart rhythms that are shockable and not shockable.

The students are modest enough to state, meanwhile, that being lucky enough to be in a school with such great science facilities and teachers has helped greatly. “The reputation the science department has built up over the years of being an innovative, accessible and driven section of the school is greatly deserved,” said Owen.


  1. Hi Sean..Need some info..Do you have the contacts of Owen or Lucas? Would like to know if they were able to come up with the smartphone based defibrillator..It would be fantastic if you can throw some light on it..

  2. just had this EXACT idea (even down to the external peripheral device and googled “smartphone defib” and this was the result.

    Beaten to the punch on what I thought was an amazing, life-saving great idea by 2 school-kids! All I can say to them is VERY WELL DONE!!

    I’m sure these kids have THOROUGHLY thought this through, but, just in-case they ever notice and read this post, I’d like to put in my two cents to possibly help them out. (Although I’m probably just teaching my granny to suck eggs)

    From now on, I am addressing Owen and Lucas directly. I hope there is at least a glimmer of a good idea amongst this lot! 😛


    – Firstly, to help with miniaturization, Look at “supercapacitors”

    – Have ALL of the charge/delivery electronics in an external box with electrodes pre-connected. This includes any circuitry associated with converting the electrical signals coming from the body to a format that the phone can read through a “Micro USB/Apple/Samsung” Multi-connector. The Idea is that the box can be used with ANY smartphone with the software installed. (Obviously the software will use this data to perform ECG’s/Rhythm analyses/Electrical charge/Logic operations, and basically all of the code functions.)

    – If the phone has an active data connection, and access to enough bandwidth at the time of an emergency, a video call could also be automatically sent to a trained and qualified operator to allow better judgement of the situation and reassurance to the first responder.

    – Have the external peripheral totally sealed and tough as nails, but try to keep costs as low as possible!

    These all depend on whether you are out to save lives, or make a profit. It would be your decision and you shouldn’t ever let anybody judge you whichever path you choose. This is not only a great life-saving tool, It is also an amazing product that WOULD sell!

    These are some ideas that would make your company shine as a beacon of extremley high moral and ethical standards.

    – NEVER, EVER sell this product to the highest bidder. I don’t think I have ever heard of a truly ethical “Big pharmaceutical company”. Less lives may be saved as a result.

    – Sell them to the public! (Obviously a legal minefield) Use the implication, that in order to purchase and own one of these, they must take a course that will cover all of the safety and legal issues that could potentially arise. you buy online, and upon attending and completing a course

    – Use the profits earned from these private sales, to help sell to health services around the world at cost prices. (on the condition that no hospital ever charges a patient more than cost price to be issued with one.)

    – Another use for your profits, could be to roll out a scheme whereby, all public buildings and spaces are automatically trained in use, and issued with enough units to equip their first aid teams.

    Make the App free. You may think It would be useless without the unit, but in the hands of a doctor or a nurse for instance, it could be used to rapidly help in diagnosis and then treatment of a patient. You could for instance use something like a fitbit or other monitoring device, to send the data to the app.


    Sorry about the essay anyway. I’m sure you have already thought all of these things through.

    Why so much? Well, I enjoy electrical engineering, problem solving and design. Most importantly though, because If something like this may have been available at the time, My dad may well have had a fighting chance.

    Keep fighting the good fight, even if your idea only ever saves one life, It will be more than worth it!

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