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Your next smart speaker might save your life

Published Jun 19th, 2019 8:08PM EDT
Smart Speaker

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The typical consumer who owns at least one smart speaker in their home might use it for helpful tasks that make the mundanity of daily life a little easier. They might ask the speaker to turn on the lights, play music or share the weather report. Little conveniences that save a bit of time over the course of the day.

If you’ve been holding off on buying one of these products because you’re not sure how meaningfully it could add to your own life, however — well, researchers at the University of Washington have created an ingenious AI-powered tool that would work with a smart speaker to literally save your life in the event of a cardiac arrest.

One of the researchers explained in a new Bloomberg interview that the system basically listens for sounds associated with an event like a heart attack — shortness of breath, guttural noises and the like — and if no one responds, the tool would alert the necessary emergency services.

The system sounds impressive, to say the least, given that the researchers trained the tool with dozens of hours of normal sleeping noises in addition to snoring and noises like dogs and cars honking. That’s both to rule out false positives and to help the system hone in on the correct audible warning signs. Additional, this proof-of-concept system used genuine “agonal breathing” recordings that were captured from emergency calls received by Seattle’s Emergency Medical Services, per Bloomberg.

Those included 2.5-second audio soundbites from 162 calls made between 2009 and 2017.

“This kind of breathing happens when a patient experiences really low oxygen levels,” Dr. Jacob Sunshine, assistant professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine, told Bloomberg. “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.”

Expect to hear more along these lines soon, since the researchers involved apparently believe in the system so much that they’ve created a formal company called Sound Life Sciences with a goal of making this technology available on a commercial basis.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.