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Published on 27th June 2019

Today, more and more people are using smart speakers. They may have them in their homes with devices like the Amazon Echo or Google Home, or they may be carrying them all the time in their smartphones.

Because this technology is always listening, it can be useful for many medical applications. As well as helping with the delivery of medication and scheduling urgent appointments, companies are currently developing devices that work as diagnostic tools for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Clinical Depression.

Smart speakers also have properties that can be useful in detecting Sudden Cardiac Arrest.


Sudden Cardiac Arrest occurs when the heart’s natural rhythm becomes chaotic and can no longer pump blood effectively. The victim will have very low oxygen levels so difficulty breathing is one of the very few initial signs that something is wrong. They will be gasping for air and experiencing what doctors call ‘Agonal Breathing’.

The sound of agonal breathing is unusual – a rasping and guttural noise – and, because it’s so characteristic of Sudden Cardiac Arrest, it’s an identifiable marker for medical professionals. It’s therefore possible to use it as an early warning – even if the victim is alone at home, a new study suggests.


Scientists at the University of Washington have been conducting research into a contactless tool that uses AI in smart speakers to listen out for agonal breathing. The system could then automatically call emergency services or alert anyone nearby to provide CPR to the victim.

Their research used a database of over seven thousand 2.5 second clips of real agonal breathing taken from a variety of different smart devices between 2009 and 2017. To make sure the detection of Sudden Cardiac Arrest was accurate, they added everyday distortions such as playing the recordings from a distance and adding background noises from things like traffic, air conditioning and pets. They also added 83 hours of normal sleeping noises including snoring and sleep apnea to provide negative data.

According to results published in NPJ Digital Magazine, they found that when the smart device was placed up to six metres away from a victim, their system could detect agonal breathing 97% of the time.

Further development is still needed to eliminate the small percentage of false positives but the university is hoping that the technology will be commercially available within a year depending on regulatory requirements.

The problem

While the application of new technology is encouraging, it doesn’t yet address the major issue with Sudden Cardiac Arrest: treatment.

Rapid defibrillation is the only proven way to treat Sudden Cardiac Arrest, and fast action is vital. If a victim is treated with CPR and defibrillation within 60 seconds, their chance of survival is as high as 90%. Within 5 minutes, it’s 50% but it drops by 10% every minute after this.

Even if the system provides an alert and someone nearby administers CPR, this will only buy time before an AED arrives. You can’t rely on the emergency service to arrive in time either – the average ambulance response time in the UK is over eleven minutes. If someone suffers a SCA outside of hospital, the survival rate is only 5% if treatment is delayed until emergency services get there.


The best way to save someone’s life is to know the location of your nearest defibrillator so that you’re prepared for when an emergency happens. This is why you’ll now find defibrillators in schools, workplaces, transport hubs, tourist spots and sports venues – and they’re saving lives.

Getting the right unit is also important. You need something that’s quick and simple for anyone to use in an emergency, regardless of their medical training.

Lifeline is the easiest AED to use on the market – you can’t make a mistake and it’s impossible to shock someone who isn’t having a cardiac arrest. The unit will assess the victim’s heart rhythm and make all the decisions, guiding you through each step of the rescue process by providing audio and visual prompts. You just need to take the AED to the patient, apply the pads and wait for it to analyse. If the AED decides a shock is required then it will direct you to press the flashing shock button.

We offer tailor-made packages for a variety of different environments that provide you with everything you need to save someone’s life when Sudden Cardiac Arrest strikes.

Early detection is useful, but early treatment is what really counts.

Contact us to find out more about our AEDs and Sudden Cardiac Arrest.