Science/Tech

New Speaker Is Smart Enough To Detect Cardiac Arrest, Call For Help

Study shows that cardiac arrest commonly occurs in places where a person is alone. This significantly lowers the chances of surviving when the heart suddenly stops beating.  

In the U.S., nearly 500,000 deaths are estimated to be caused by cardiac arrest. When it happens, immediate CPR can help save a life. 

However, it is not everyday that someone would be present to help. This problem led researchers at the University of Washington to develop a smart speaker that can detect signs of cardiac arrest and send a warning to other people. 

The new device, described in a report in the journal Digital Medicine, works like Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa-powered smart speakers. It detects when someone is having heart failure by analyzing the gasping sound of agonal breathing of a person. 

To develop the speaker, the researchers collected data on real agonal breathing instances from 911 calls. During tests, the device was able to accurately detect and identify cardiac arrest 97 percent of the time.

It worked effectively even from up to 20 feet away from the person. 

"A lot of people have smart speakers in their homes, and these devices have amazing capabilities that we can take advantage of," Shyam Gollakota, an associate professor in the UW's Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, said in a statement

Gollakota said the research team aims to make the smart speaker capable of continuously monitoring an agonal breathing and of sending alerts to anyone near the patient. The device could also automatically call 911.

The researchers used machine learning to teach the speaker to identify real agonal breathing and typical sounds that people make in their sleep, such as snoring or obstructive sleep apnea.

The team said the algorithm enabled the device to avoid accidentally considering other types of noise as agonal breathing. The speaker incorrectly categorized breathing only 0.14 percent of the time in lab tests. 

The researchers plan to bring the device to the market through Sound Life Sciences company. 

"Cardiac arrests are a very common way for people to die, and right now many of them can go unwitnessed," Jacob Sunshine, an assistant professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine at the UW School of Medicine, said. "Part of what makes this technology so compelling is that it could help us catch more patients in time for them to be treated."

Smart Speaker Researchers at the University of Washington have developed an algorithm for a smart speaker or smartphone lets the device detect the sound of agonal breathing and call for help. Sarah McQuate/University of Washington

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