Smart speakers are great things to have. Imagine coming into your apartment and then you have this virtual butler that serves you almost anything and interacts with you as though someone is actually there. Behold the smart speaker age which makes homes more interesting.
Could it be controlling the light or requesting for songs or podcasts to listen to songs or turning on and off the TV set, smart speakers are great at those basic smart home functionalities thrown at them. But then these AI powered devices can also save your life. An innovative research project from the University of Washington suggests this to be true.
At the University, a team of smart researchers were able to successfully develop a way by which smart speakers can be transformed into a device that monitors people for potential cardiac arrest while they’re asleep.
Since proven that patient’s bedroom is usually one of the many common locations for an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, the UW tool can then help carry out this detection without even needing any additional hardware to be attached to the patient’s body or even touching the user of the device. You might ask how possible that is, this is said to be achieved by using the Smart Speaker’s listening ability.
Shyam Gollakota who is an associate professor at the University’s Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering carried out the work. Gollakota and his team has carried out some really great works in the past such as developing smartphone apps that can hear your ear infections and therefore granting ordinary ability to do the jobs instead of a certified doctor.
“It is known that during a cardiac arrest, victims will … exhibit a symptom known as ‘agonal breathing’”
“Smart speakers are increasingly becoming popular,” Gollakota told Digital Trends. “You don’t need them to be recharged, and so they are plugged in all the time. As a result, you don’t need to be worried about power.” Gollakota thinks that smart speakers, properly leveraged by researchers, offer a “unique opportunity in terms of medical diagnosis and care.” It’s one that goes way beyond the largely leisurely space that they currently occupy.
The device is specially designed to listen for the signature sounds of cardiac arrest. Now, when there is any detection of such sound, the tool simply sends a call for help either to an emergency medical service or an health caregiver.
“It is known that during a cardiac arrest, victims will stop breathing normally, and in a majority of cases will exhibit a symptom known as ‘agonal breathing,’ a type of disordered gasping sound,” Gollakota said.
If you wonder how this technology works, the device is able to differentiate such sounds heard in a bedroom environment which can only be made possible with the development of a Support Vector Machine or SVM which makes this a possibility.
The technology works as a discriminative classifier machine which can be given labeled examples of what it is looking for and then categorize any new examples it finds out.
“Our technology was tested on agonal breathing sounds obtained from 911 calls to Seattle King County’s EMS services during cardiac arrests from 2009 to 2017,” Gollakota said. “We evaluated our technology on 164 hours of sleep sounds, collected across 35 different bedroom environments, as well as 82 hours of sleep lab sounds where patients had apneas, hypopneas and snoring events. [These] can sound similar to agonal breathing. We showed that we can identify agonal breathing sounds accurately in all these scenarios.”
The device isn’t quite ready yet and in fact, Gollakota said. “To make the algorithm more robust, we will have to augment more data across different geographical areas beyond Seattle King County,” he noted.
Even though, we can still expect a promising technology that will definitely change how smart home works and save more lives on the regular basis. In a recent paper that was published on Digital Machine, the UW team’s tool is able to detect distances of agonal breathing with about 97% accuracy from a distance up to 20 feet away. They are currently looking to commercialize the technology through a spinoff company called Sound Life Sciences.
THE NEXT GENERATION OF SMART SPEAKERS
This would change everything you ever know about the smart speakers. According to Gollakota, this category of device is spreading and it’s sales in the US will definitely meet up with other big players like the Apple Homepod or the Google Home.
Talking about Killer App which is too good that it can in fact sell a device on it’s own, personal computers in the 80s remained the a hobbyist tool until Visicalc came. A spreadsheet which was first of it’s kind suddenly made the PC a necessity for anyone who wants to grow and keep track on their business.
With other technologies such as the smart watches that can help you monitor your heartbeat rate and sedentary lifestyle or keeping track on calories, wearable technology is by far growing more like wildfire. Back in 2015 when Apple launched the Apple watch, it’s till date the biggest in the wearable industry and had been pushing Apple sales forward even with their dwindled sales of smartphones in 2019.
And considering how the smartwatch quickly transformed into something more unique and great for all aside being a fashionable device. This kind of transformation will help improve the relevance of smart speakers. Tools like the Alexa Guard which basically utilizes the farfield microphones built into the Echo devices to listen for glass breaks and alarms from smoke or CO detectors help keep your home and property safe.
“You can think of [our tool as being] like Alexa Guard, but now for cardiac arrest detection,” Gollakota said.
Being able to say “Alexa, dim the lights and play my after-work playlist” is cool. But being able to say “Alexa, monitor my heart and listen out for other dangers” All that will be a reason to own a smart speaker.