Algorithms - A real world example: QRS-Detection#

In this example we will implement a custom algorithm and discuss, when you might want to use an algorithm class over just pipelines.

Specifically we will implement a simple algorithm, designed to identify individual QRS complexes from a continuous ECG signal. If you have no idea what this all means, don’t worry about it. Simply we want to find peaks in a continuous signal that has some artifacts.


The algorithm we design is not a good algorithms! There are way better and properly evaluated algorithms to do this job! Don’t use this algorithms for anything :)

When should you use custom algorithms?#

Algorithms are a completely optional feature of tpcp and in many cases not required. However, algorithm subclasses provide a structured way to implement new algorithms when you don’t have any better structure to follow. Further they allow the setting of nested parameters (e.g. when used as parameters to pipelines) and can benefit from other tooling in tpcp (e.g. cloning). For more general information have a look at the general documentation page The fundamental components: Datasets, Algorithms, and Pipelines.

Implementing QRS-Detection#

In general our QRS-Detection will have two steps:

  1. High-pass filter the data to remove baseline drift. We will use a Butterworth filter for that.

  2. Apply a peak finding strategy to find the (hopefully dominant) R-peaks. We will use find_peaks with a couple of parameters for that.

As all algorithms, our algorithm needs to inherit from tpcp.Algorithm and implement an action method. In our case we will call the action method detect, as it makes sense based on what the algorithm does. This detect method will first do the filtering and then the peak search, which we will split into two methods to keep things easier to understand.

If you just want the final implementation, without all the explanation, check The final QRS detection algorithms.

Ok that is still a bunch of code… But let’s focus on the aspects that are important in general:

  1. We inherit from Algorithm

  2. We get and define all parameters in the init without modification

  3. We define the name of out action method using _action_method = "detect"

  4. After we do the computations, we set the results on the instance

  5. We return self

  6. (Optionally) we applied the make_action_safe decorator to our action method, which makes some runtimes checks to ensure our implementation follows the tpcp spec.

import numpy as np
import pandas as pd
from scipy import signal

from tpcp import Algorithm, Parameter, make_action_safe

class QRSDetector(Algorithm):
    _action_methods = "detect"

    # Input Parameters
    high_pass_filter_cutoff_hz: Parameter[float]
    max_heart_rate_bpm: Parameter[float]
    min_r_peak_height_over_baseline: Parameter[float]

    # Results
    r_peak_positions_: pd.Series

    # Some internal constants

    def __init__(
        max_heart_rate_bpm: float = 200.0,
        min_r_peak_height_over_baseline: float = 1.0,
        high_pass_filter_cutoff_hz: float = 0.5,
        self.max_heart_rate_bpm = max_heart_rate_bpm
        self.min_r_peak_height_over_baseline = min_r_peak_height_over_baseline
        self.high_pass_filter_cutoff_hz = high_pass_filter_cutoff_hz

    def detect(self, single_channel_ecg: pd.Series, sampling_rate_hz: float):
        ecg = single_channel_ecg.to_numpy().flatten()

        filtered_signal = self._filter(ecg, sampling_rate_hz)
        peak_positions = self._search_strategy(filtered_signal, sampling_rate_hz)

        self.r_peak_positions_ = pd.Series(peak_positions)
        return self

    def _search_strategy(
        self, filtered_signal: np.ndarray, sampling_rate_hz: float, use_height: bool = True
    ) -> np.ndarray:
        # Calculate the minimal distance based on the expected heart rate
        min_distance_between_peaks = 1 / (self.max_heart_rate_bpm / 60) * sampling_rate_hz

        height = None
        if use_height:
            height = self.min_r_peak_height_over_baseline
        peaks, _ = signal.find_peaks(filtered_signal, distance=min_distance_between_peaks, height=height)
        return peaks

    def _filter(self, ecg_signal: np.ndarray, sampling_rate_hz: float) -> np.ndarray:
        sos = signal.butter(
        return signal.sosfiltfilt(sos, ecg_signal)

Testing the implementation#

To test the implementation, we load our example ECG data using the dataset created in a previous example.

Based on the simple test we can see that our algorithm works (at least for this piece of data).

from pathlib import Path

from examples.datasets.datasets_final_ecg import ECGExampleData

# Loading the data
    HERE = Path(__file__).parent
except NameError:
    HERE = Path().resolve()
data_path = HERE.parent.parent / "example_data/ecg_mit_bih_arrhythmia/data"
example_data = ECGExampleData(data_path)
ecg_data = example_data[0].data["ecg"]

# Initialize the algorithm
algorithm = QRSDetector()
algorithm = algorithm.detect(ecg_data, example_data.sampling_rate_hz)

# Visualize the results
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

subset_peaks = algorithm.r_peak_positions_[algorithm.r_peak_positions_ < 5000.0]
plt.plot(subset_peaks, ecg_data[subset_peaks], "s")
01 algorithms qrs detection

Making the algorithm trainable#

The implementation so far heavily depends on the value of the min_r_peak_height_over_baseline parameter. If this is set incorrectly, everything will go wrong. This parameter describes the minimal expected value of the filtered signal at the position of an R-peak. Without looking at the filtered data, this value is hard to guess. The value will depend on potential preprocessing applied to the data and the measurement conditions. But we should be able to calculate a suitable value based on some training data (with R-peak annotations) recorded under similar conditions.

Therefore, we will create a second implementation of our algorithm that is trainable. Meaning, we will implement a method (self_optimize) that is able to estimate a suitable value for our cutoff based on some training data. Note, that we do not provide a generic base class for optimizable algorithms. If you need one, create your own class with a call signature for self_optimize that makes sense for the group of algorithms you are trying to implement.

From an implementation perspective, this means that we need to do the following things:

  1. Implement a self_optimize method that takes the data of multiple recordings including the reference labels to calculate a suitable threshold. This method should modify only parameters marked as OptimizableParameter and then return self.

  2. We need to mark the parameters that we want to optimize as OptimizableParameter using the type annotations on the class level.

  3. We introduce a new parameter called r_peak_match_tolerance_s that is used by our self_optimize method. Changing it, changes the output of our optimization. Therefore, it is a Hyper-Parameter of our method. We mark it as such using the type-hints on class level.

  4. (Optional) Wrap the self_optimize method with the make_optimize_safe decorator. It will perform some runtime checks and inform us, if we did not implement self_optimize as expected.


The process required to implement an optimizable algorithm will always be very similar to what we did here. It doesn’t matter, if the optimization only optimizes a threshold or trains a neuronal network. The structure will be very similar.

From a scientific perspective, we optimize our parameter by trying to find all R-peaks without a height restriction first. Based on the detected R-peaks, we determine, which of them are actually correctly detected, by checking if they are within the threshold r_peak_match_tolerance_s of a reference R-peak. Then we find the best height threshold to maximise our predictive power within these preliminary detected peaks.

Again, there are probably better ways to do it… But this is just an example, and we already have way too much code that is not relevant for you to understand the basics of Algorithms.

from sklearn.metrics import roc_curve

from examples.algorithms.algorithms_qrs_detection_final import match_events_with_reference
from tpcp import HyperParameter, OptimizableParameter, make_optimize_safe

class OptimizableQrsDetector(QRSDetector):
    min_r_peak_height_over_baseline: OptimizableParameter[float]
    r_peak_match_tolerance_s: HyperParameter[float]

    def __init__(
        max_heart_rate_bpm: float = 200.0,
        min_r_peak_height_over_baseline: float = 1.0,
        r_peak_match_tolerance_s: float = 0.01,
        high_pass_filter_cutoff_hz: float = 1,
        self.r_peak_match_tolerance_s = r_peak_match_tolerance_s

    def self_optimize(self, ecg_data: list[pd.Series], r_peaks: list[pd.Series], sampling_rate_hz: float):
        all_labels = []
        all_peak_heights = []
        for d, p in zip(ecg_data, r_peaks):
            filtered = self._filter(d.to_numpy().flatten(), sampling_rate_hz)
            # Find all potential peaks without the height threshold
            potential_peaks = self._search_strategy(filtered, sampling_rate_hz, use_height=False)
            # Determine the label for each peak, by matching them with our ground truth
            labels = np.zeros(potential_peaks.shape)
            matches = match_events_with_reference(
                tolerance=self.r_peak_match_tolerance_s * sampling_rate_hz,
            tp_matches = matches[(~np.isnan(matches)).all(axis=1), 0].astype(int)
            labels[tp_matches] = 1
            labels = labels.astype(bool)
        all_labels = np.hstack(all_labels)
        all_peak_heights = np.hstack(all_peak_heights)
        # We "brute-force" a good cutoff by testing a bunch of thresholds and then calculating the Youden Index for
        # each.
        fpr, tpr, thresholds = roc_curve(all_labels, all_peak_heights)
        youden_index = tpr - fpr
        # The best Youden index gives us a balance between sensitivity and specificity.
        self.min_r_peak_height_over_baseline = thresholds[np.argmax(youden_index)]
        return self

Testing the implementation#

To test the trainable implementation, we need a train and a test set. In this case we simply use the first two recordings as train set and a third recording as test set.

Then we first call self_optimize with the train data.

train_data = example_data[:2]
train_ecg_data = [["ecg"] for d in train_data]
train_r_peaks = [d.r_peak_positions_["r_peak_position"] for d in train_data]

algorithm = OptimizableQrsDetector()
algorithm = algorithm.self_optimize(train_ecg_data, train_r_peaks, train_data.sampling_rate_hz)

After the optimization, we can access the modified parameters.

    "The optimized value of the threshold `min_r_peak_height_over_baseline` is:",
The optimized value of the threshold `min_r_peak_height_over_baseline` is: 0.5434583752370183

Then we can apply the algorithm to our test set. And again, we can see that the algorithm works fine on the piece of data we are inspecting here.

test_data = example_data[3]
test_ecg_data =["ecg"]

algorithm = algorithm.detect(test_ecg_data, test_data.sampling_rate_hz)

# Visualize the results
subset_peaks = algorithm.r_peak_positions_[algorithm.r_peak_positions_ < 5000.0]
plt.plot(subset_peaks, test_ecg_data[subset_peaks], "s")
01 algorithms qrs detection

Total running time of the script: (0 minutes 4.311 seconds)

Estimated memory usage: 175 MB

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