Photoplethysmography – IR Heart Rate Monitor

This Instructable documents how to create a simple heart rate monitor using Photoplethysmography with an IR phototransistor via transmissive absorption using the Arduino to process the pulsatile data and display live results via a TFT screen.

To use the source code and create the necessary circuitry you will need a reasonable grasp of electronics, knowledge of the Arduino, a DMM and some patience.

The design has been optimised to work with easily obtainable ‘off the shelf’ commercial parts and re-purposed household items and gives reasonable results.

You will need the following parts;

  1. Arduino Mega 2560 (from SainSmart)
  2. 1 off old coat hanger as depicted in the picture in Step 2 : The Sensor
  3. 1 off 1.8 SPI 128×160 TFT Module. I got mine for £2.79 from ebay. Here;×160-/381339124956?hash=item58c99544dc:g:mqcAA0SwjvvvsM13
  4. 2 off TL072 FET OpAmps
  5. 1 off T121 NPN Darlington Transistor
  6. 3 off 1N4148 diodes
  7. 1 off BZY88C 3v3 Zener diode
  8. 1 off BPW96B Phototransistor
  9. 1 off TSAL6400 940nm IR 5mm Led
  10. 1 off Ceramic 1uF capacitor
  11. 2 off 4.7uF Electrolytic capacitors
  12. 1 off 22pF Ceramic capacitor
  13. 1 off 22nF Ceramic capacitor
  14. 1 off 10nF Ceramic capacitor
  15. 1 off 50K 10 turn potentiometer
  16. 3 off 4K7 resistors
  17. 4 off 10R resistors
  18. 2 off 7R5 resistors
  19. 1 off 1M0 resistor
  20. 1 off 3K9 resistor
  21. 2 off 10K resistors
  22. 1 off 100K resistor
  23. 5 off 1K resistors
  24. 1 off 220R resistor

Other than the Arduino Mega 2560 (Genuino), coat hanger and the TFT display, I purchased all the parts from FARNELL in the UK.


WARNING : The details contained herein are for information only and should not be relied upon for accurate heart rate monitoring in a clinical or any other environment.

Step 1: Now for the Science Part!

So what is Photoplethysmography?

Photoplethysmography (PPG) is a simple and low cost optical technique that can be used to detect blood volume changes in the microvascular bed of tissue. It is used to make non-invasive measurements at the surface of the skin.

A PPG waveform comprises two main components; ‘AC’ arterial pulsatile changes in blood flow synchronised to heart beat and ‘DC’ elements attributed to venous blood, tissue, respiration, sympathetic nervous system activity and thermoregulation. See diagram above ‘Variation in light attenuation by tissue’.

It is these AC changes which are used to extract heart beat.

The interaction of light with human tissue is quite complex and involves; scattering, reflection and absorption. Research has shown that IR light around 940nm gives the deepest penetration and yields the best deep tissue blood flow measurement. See

Detection is achieved by shining a source of illumination (in this case an IR LED) at an optically sensitive receiver (photodiode/phototransistor).

Positioning of sensors is in one of two ways, reflective or transmissive. See diagram above ‘Transmissive and Reflective modes’. Transmissive mode yields the best results with IR illumination, which is what this project is based around.

Step 2: The Sensor

The sensor was constructed from an old clothes hanger.

I initially used the sprung metal clip to secure the device to the finger tip, but found it too tight in it’s original form, blocking blood flow.

Consequently I opened it up as shown above.

However, once I had opened it up sufficiently to allow for good blood flow in the finger tip, the clip would no longer hold together.

Read more: Photoplethysmography – IR Heart Rate Monitor

About The Author

Ibrar Ayyub

I am an experienced technical writer holding a Master's degree in computer science from BZU Multan, Pakistan University. With a background spanning various industries, particularly in home automation and engineering, I have honed my skills in crafting clear and concise content. Proficient in leveraging infographics and diagrams, I strive to simplify complex concepts for readers. My strength lies in thorough research and presenting information in a structured and logical format.

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