#Alexa speakers ‘could warn you if you’re about to have a heart attack’

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‘Alexa, am I having a heart attack?’ It’s a surreal idea, but smart speakers could one day save lives – by detecting the early signs of a heart attack.

People suffering from cardiac arrest (the technical term for a heart attack) often have irregular, gasping breath (known as ‘agonal breathing’).

Patients are often unable to call emergency services, but researchers believe that smart speakers could listen for the telltale breathing, and alert emergency services.

Researchers at the University of Washington created an AI-powered tool which could ‘listen’ for the signs and alert emergency services.

‘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, associate professor at the University of Washington.

‘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.

‘This could run locally on the processors contained in the Alexa.

‘It’s running in real time, so you don’t need to store anything or send anything to the cloud.’

Between 2009 and 2017, 2.5-second audio extracts were taken from 162 calls and captured on different smart devices, including Amazon Alexa, an iPhone 5S and a Samsung Galaxy S4, as well as machine learning techniques to bring the database of clips up to 7,316.

The system could detect agonal breathing 97% of the time when the smart device was placed up to six metres away from a speaker generating the sounds, researchers explained in npj Digital Medicine.

However, further work is needed on the algorithm to avoid unnecessary alerts to emergency services, after testing resulted in a small percentage of false positives.

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