Respiratory approaches to determining cardiac output in humans are securely rooted in mass balance and therefore potentially highly accurate. To address existing limitations in the gas analysis, we developed an in-airway analyser based on laser absorption spectroscopy to provide analyses every 10 ms. The technique for estimating cardiac output requires both a relatively soluble and insoluble tracer gas, and we employed acetylene and methane for these, respectively. A multipass cell was used to provide sufficient measurement sensitivity to enable analysis directly within the main gas stream, thus avoiding errors introduced by sidestream gas analysis. To assess performance, measurements of cardiac output were made during both rest and exercise on five successive days in each of six volunteers. The measurements were extremely repeatable (coefficient of variation ~ 7%). This new measurement technology provides a stable foundation against which the algorithm to calculate cardiac output can be further developed.