Alexa call 999 – smart speakers may detect cardiac arrests

By June Shannon Heart News   |   24th Jun 2019

Smart speakers in the home or your smart phone, may one day be able to recognize that you are having a cardiac arrest and call the emergency services – new research from the USA looks to the future

New research by scientists from the University of Washington (UW) in the US, suggests that in the future, smart speakers, like Amazon Alexa or your iPhone, may be able to save your life by calling 999 if it detects you are having a cardiac arrest at home.

Approximately 5,000 people die in Ireland every year from a cardiac arrest, that is 13 lives lost every day.

People experiencing cardiac arrest will suddenly become unresponsive and either stop breathing or gasp for air, a sign known as agonal breathing.

Starting CPR can double if not triple a person’s chance of survival and in the event of a collapse from cardiac arrest, every minute is vital.

Without CPR or defibrillation, the chance of survival falls by up to 10 per cent a minute and after just 5 minutes, the person may only have a 50 per cent chance of survival.

The majority of cardiac arrests happen in the home and research suggests that one of the most common locations is in a patient’s bedroom, where no one is likely around or awake to respond.

Approximately 5,000 people die in Ireland every year from a cardiac arrest, that is 13 lives lost every day.


Therefore, the UW researchers have developed a new tool to monitor people for cardiac arrest while they are asleep without touching them.

A new skill for a smart speaker — like Google Home and Amazon Alexa — or a smartphone, lets the device detect the gasping sound of agonal breathing and call for help. On average, the proof-of-concept tool, which was developed using real agonal breathing instances captured from 911 calls, detected agonal breathing events 97 per cent of the time from up to 20 feet (or 6 meters) away. The findings are published June 19 in the Nature journal npj Digital Medicine.

“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, an associate professor in the UW’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering. “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. And then if there’s no response, the device can automatically call 911.”

Agonal breathing is present for about 50 per cent of people who experience cardiac arrests, according to 911 call data, and patients who take agonal breaths often have a better chance of surviving.

“This kind of breathing happens when a patient experiences really low oxygen levels,” said co-corresponding author Dr Jacob Sunshine, an assistant professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine at the UW School of Medicine.

“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.”

The researchers gathered sounds of agonal breathing from real 911 calls to Seattle’s Emergency Medical Services. Because cardiac arrest patients are often unconscious, bystanders recorded the agonal breathing sounds by putting their phones up to the patient’s mouth so that the dispatcher could determine whether the patient needed immediate CPR.

" By recognising cardiac arrest earlier more lives will be saved, all these advances in technology are welcomed,"

Brigid Sinnott, Resus Manager, , Irish Heart Foundation

The team collected 162 calls between 2009 and 2017 and extracted 2.5 seconds of audio at the start of each agonal breath to come up with a total of 236 clips. They captured the recordings on different smart devices — an Amazon Alexa, an iPhone 5s and a Samsung Galaxy S4 — and used various machine learning techniques to boost the dataset to 7,316 positive clips.

“We played these examples at different distances to simulate what it would sound like if it the patient was at different places in the bedroom,” said first author Justin Chan, a doctoral student in the Allen School. “We also added different interfering sounds such as sounds of cats and dogs, cars honking, air conditioning, things that you might normally hear in a home.”

The researchers also collected audio clips of typical sounds that people make in their sleep, such as snoring or obstructive sleep apnoea to ensure that the tool would not accidentally classify a different type of breathing, like snoring, as agonal breathing.

The team envisions this algorithm could function like an app, or a skill for Alexa that runs passively on a smart speaker or smartphone while people sleep.

While the technology is still very new and needs further testing, there may come a day when your smart speaker might just save your life.

Commenting Brigid Sinnott, Resus Manager with the Irish Heart Foundation said, “The earlier a cardiac arrest is recognised, the earlier CPR is commenced, and the earlier defibrillation takes place the better the chances of surviving an out of hospital cardiac arrest. By recognising cardiac arrest earlier more lives will be saved, all these advances in technology are welcomed. For a person having a cardiac arrest every minute without CPR or defibrillation their chances of surviving decreases by 10 per cent per minute, time is the essence”.

The Irish Heart Foundation provides free CPR courses across the country. To register for a course, simply go to or email: You might just save a life.


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Related Topics

bystander CPR cardiac cardiac arrest CPR emergency smart devices technology

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