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The MIT-BIH Arrhythmia Database was the first generally available set of standard test material for evaluation of arrhythmia detectors, and it has been used for that purpose as well as for basic research into cardiac dynamics at about 500 sites worldwide since 1980. It has lived a far longer life than any of its creators ever expected. Together with the American Heart Association Database, it played an interesting role in stimulating manufacturers of arrhythmia analyzers to compete on the basis of objectively measurable performance, and much of the current appreciation of the value of common databases, both for basic research and for medical device development and evaluation, can be attributed to this experience. In this article, we briefly review the history of the database, describe its contents, discuss what we have learned about database design and construction, and take a look at some of the later projects that have been stimulated by both the successes and the limitations of the MIT-BIH Arrhythmia Database.