A smart speaker acts as a contactless monitor for both regular and irregular heartbeats. (Credit: University of Washington)

Researchers have developed a new skill for a smart speaker that for the first time monitors both regular and irregular heartbeats without physical contact. The system sends inaudible sounds from the speaker out into a room and, based on the way the sounds are reflected back to the speaker, it can identify and monitor individual heartbeats. Because the heartbeat is such a tiny motion on the chest surface, the team’s system uses machine learning to help the smart speaker locate signals from both regular and irregular heartbeats.

When the researchers tested this system on healthy participants and hospitalized cardiac patients, the smart speaker detected heartbeats that closely matched the beats detected by standard heartbeat monitors.

For this system, the search for heartbeats begins when a person sits within 1–2 ft in front of the smart speaker. Then the system plays an inaudible continuous sound, which bounces off the person and returns to the speaker. Based on how the returned sound has changed, the system can isolate movements on the person — including the rise and fall of their chest as they breathe.

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