Amazon Alexa to recognise signs of cardiac arrest and call for help

New research may enable smarthome speakers to detect heart trouble following a change in breathing

BERLIN, GERMANY - DECEMBER 14: The Logo of virtual assistant Amazon Alexa is displayed on a smartphone on December 14, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images)
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Agonal breathing is a common side effect of cardiac arrest, it refers to the victim's gasp for air when experiencing a heart attack. In order to prevent the high number of deaths owing to delayed treatment, a research team from the University of Washington have created a new tool that can gauge heart trouble through a person's smart home speaker. The built-in tool will detect agonal breathing and alert the virtual assistant gadgets to which the speaker is connected, such as Amazon Alexa or Google Home.

The tool, which is called a "skill", will then either raise an alarm to alert a second person in the same space or – if there's no response – the device can automatically call an emergency service number such as 911, the researchers claim.

According to the findings published in NPJ Digital Medicine, the team collected 162 real samples of agonal breathing, based on recordings by bystanders who put their phones up to a patient's mouth when seeking medical aid over the phone to 911 dispatchers. The researchers then used these clips to test various distances and simulated locational differences, factoring in ambient noises, such as cars honking, air conditioning and the scratching and other sounds of pets such as cats and dogs.

The technology was found to be effective 97 per cent of the time from up to 20 feet away. Fortunately, the skill can also be synched with a smartphone, which most people sleep within close quarters of, in addition to an AI gadget.

A breathing sound, such as snoring or sleep apnoea, was incorrectly detected as agonal breathing 0.14 per cent of the time, but the device sends out a warning once before alerting a second party and can be shut down should there be no emergency at the time.

Shyam Gollakota, as associate professional at the University of Washington, told Healthline the technology is being licensed and could be available in a year.

A gadget such as this is good news for the UAE. According to a talk at the World Cardiac Congress last year, people in the UAE die of cardiac arrest almost 20 years earlier, at the age of 45, compared to the world average of 65 years. Three major factors that lead to cardiac arrest – diabetes, obesity and hypertension – are also prevalent in the country.