‘Alexa, monitor my heart’

Researchers develop first contactless cardiac arrest AI system for smart speakers

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PIX/Sarah McQuate/University of Washington

RESEARCHERS at the University of Washington have developed a new tool to monitor people for cardiac arrest while they’re asleep without touching them.

A new skill for a smart speaker — like Google Home and Amazon Alexa — or smartphone lets the device detect the gasping sound of agonal breathing and call for help.

On average, the proof-of-concept tool, which was developed using real agonal breathing instances captured from 911 calls, detected agonal breathing events 97% of the time from up to 20 feet (or 6 meters) away. The findings are published June 19 in npj Digital Medicine.

“A lot of people have smart speakers in their homes, and these devices have amazing capabilities that we can take advantage of,” said co-corresponding author Shyam Gollakota, an associate professor in the UW’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering.

“We envision a contactless system that works by continuously and passively monitoring the bedroom for an agonal breathing event, and alerts anyone nearby to come provide CPR. And then if there’s no response, the device can automatically call 911.”

Agonal breathing is present for about 50% of people who experience cardiac arrests, according to 911 call data, and patients who take agonal breaths often have a better chance of surviving.

“This kind of breathing happens when a patient experiences really low oxygen levels,” said co-corresponding author Dr. Jacob Sunshine, an assistant professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine at the UW School of Medicine.

“It’s sort of a guttural gasping noise, and its uniqueness makes it a good audio biomarker to use to identify if someone is experiencing a cardiac arrest.”