New parents will likely agree that one of the most concerning and frustrating things about parenting an infant is trying to figure out why their baby is crying. When diapers have been changed and they’ve been fed but they’re still crying, it can be a source stress and worry.
That’s what inspired Electrical Engineering Professor Lichuan Liu, Ph. D., of Northern Illinois University’s (NIU) College of Engineering and Engineering Technology (CEET). After the birth of her son, she was moved to find a way to determine the meaning behind his cries.
“My husband and I had no clue what our son wanted,” she said. “I thought there must be a way to determine what his crying meant.”
Prof. Liu researches digital signal processing, machine learning and active noise control. Her research has resulted in an artificial intelligence algorithm that can detect the meaning behind babies’ cries. “Like a special language, there are lots of health-related information in various sounds,” she said.
Prof. Liu recorded the cries of one baby and eventually partnered with the Tri-County Clinic (now part of Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital) to record the cries of 20-30 babies citing the frequency and time. The study used artificial intelligence to form algorithms that interpret the meanings.
The research found that for babies up to 12 weeks old there are similarities in crying caused by pain, discomfort and other triggers. “Pain cries are universal, they are different from other cries; they are more high pitched and last longer,” she said. The cries could mean medical issues such as infections, central nervous system problems, pneumonia, sepsis, or pain.
“We are so proud of the accomplishments of our dedicated and innovative faculty like Prof. Liu,” said NIU CEET Dean Donald Peterson, Ph. D. “The research that she conducts has real-world applications and has the power to impact so many lives. This is precisely the kind of education that we take pride in providing to our students.”
Prof. Liu’s research has garnered considerable interest since it was featured in a paper published in May issue of the IEEE/CAA Journal of Automatica Sinica (JAS).
Ranked in the top 50 of undergraduate engineering programs by U.S. World and News Report, the CEET was established in 1985 and offers degree programs in biomedical engineering, electrical engineering, engineering technology, industrial and systems engineering, mechanical and mechatronics engineering. It is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) and the Association of Technology, Management and Applied Engineering (ATMAE). The college is housed in its 125,000 square foot facility that features more than 40 state-of-the-art laboratories that are open to all students from freshmen year through graduate school.
Northern Illinois University is a student-centered, nationally recognized public research university, with expertise that benefits its region and spans the globe in a wide variety of fields, including the sciences, humanities, arts, business, engineering, education, health and law. Through its main campus in DeKalb, Illinois, and education centers for students and working professionals in Chicago, Hoffman Estates, Naperville, Oregon and Rockford, NIU offers more than 100 courses of study while serving a diverse and international student body.