Alexa or another smart speaker can hear you as users well know – but did you know they can hear and analyze your breathing and perhaps detect a heart attack?

Could the speaker dial 9-1-1- when you can’t ask for help?

Scientists at the University of Washington think so.

“Researchers have developed a new tool to monitor people for cardiac arrest while they’re asleep without touching them,” the university says. “A new skill for a smart speaker — like Google Home and Amazon Alexa — or smartphone lets the device detect the gasping sound of agonal breathing and call for help.”

If you are breathing in gasps, it could be a sign of so-called “agonal breathing” that is linked to cardiac arrest.

“This kind of breathing happens when a patient experiences really low oxygen levels,” Dr Jacob Sunshine, assistant professor of anaesthesiology and pain medicine, told Bloomberg News. “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 university notes that its proof-of-concept tool “detected agonal breathing events 97% of the time from up to 20 feet (or 6 meters) away.”

“A lot of people have smart speakers in their homes, and these devices have amazing capabilities that we can take advantage of,” said Shyam Gollakota, an associate professor in the UW’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & 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.”

The CDC says someone suffers a heart attack every 40 seconds in the U.S. and more than 700,000 people have them annually.

The university research is based on reviews of actual agonal breathing recordings made in Seattle between 2009 and 2017 using Amazon’s Alexa as well as iPhone and Samsung smartphones.

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