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Researchers at the University of Washington (UW) have created a smart speaker skill that allows a device to track babies’ breathing and movement.

BreathJunior plays white noise, recording it back to the speaker’s microphones to identify breathing motions.

Researchers designed the system to be compatible with smart speakers such as Amazon Echo and Google Home.

UW Paul G Allen school of computer science and engineering associate professor Shyam Gollakota said: “Smart speakers are becoming more and more prevalent and these devices already have the ability to play white noise.

“If we could use this white noise feature as a contactless way to monitor infants’ hand and leg movements, breathing and crying, then the smart speaker becomes a device that can do it all, which is really exciting.”

The algorithm in BreathJunior leverages the microphones incorporated in the smart speakers to identify the baby’s direction for maximising the white noise signal changes.

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To test the skill on an infant simulator, researchers developed a prototype smart speaker.

The simulator can be adjusted to specific breathing rates, allowing the assessment of BreathJunior’s ability to detect different respiratory rates.

It was also used to test whether the smart speaker skill could detect abnormal breathing patterns such as apnoea.

According to the team, BreathJunior showed favourable performance in both tests.

When tested on five babies in a neonatal intensive care unit, the prototype was able to detect respiratory rates closely similar to that of standard vital sign monitors.

UW School of Medicine anesthesiology and pain medicine assistant professor Dr Jacob Sunshine said: “BreathJunior holds potential for parents who want to use white noise to help their child sleep and who also want a way to monitor their child’s breathing and motion.

“It also has appeal as a tool for monitoring breathing in the subset of infants in whom home respiratory monitoring is clinically indicated, as well as in hospital environments where doctors want to use unwired respiratory monitoring.”