Smart speaker system uses white noise to monitor baby’s breathing

We all know one of the most common problems that every new parent face is making sure their babies get enough sleep. They also want to monitor their child while they’re sleeping.

With this in mind, a research team at the University of Washington developed a new smart speaker system that allows you to monitor infants’ breathing and movements with the help of white noise, while also soothing them to sleep.

It uses white noise from an intelligent speaker. Called BreathJunior, the system then records how the noise is reflected back to detect breathing motions of infants’ tiny chests. Using a wide range of microphones, the system can track white noise reflected from the child’s body.

The system plays white noise and records how the noise is reflected back to detect breathing motions of infants’ tiny chests.
The system plays white noise and records how the noise is reflected back to detect breathing motions of infants’ tiny chests. Credit: University of Washington

The prototype device, according to the team, can closely match the respiratory rates of detected by standard vital sign monitors. In other words, this indicates that future smart speakers can achieve wireless monitoring for personal health.

White noise is a type of noise that is produced by combining sounds of all different frequencies together. This noise can help exhausted parents of newborns to cover up other noises that might wake a sleeping baby.

We start out by transmitting a random white noise signal. But we are generating this random signal, so we know exactly what the randomness is,said Anran Wang, a doctoral student in the Allen School. “That signal goes out and reflects off the baby. Then the smart speaker’s microphones get a random signal back. Because we know the original signal, we can cancel out any randomness from that, and then we’re left with only information about the motion from the baby.

Artificial intelligence analyzes the reflected signal and concludes whether the child is breathing calmly or if his breathing is rapid. BreathJunior tracks both small motions and large motions and can also pick up the sound of a baby crying.

During the tests, the BreathJunior detected a variety of respiratory rates – from a slow 20 breaths per minute to 60 breaths per minute. The team then tested the prototype to track real babies’ breathing. The results again prove that the smart system is very accurate and can track up to 65 breaths per minute, which matches the values detected by hospital-grade equipment.

The system is still in the prototype stage, but researchers plan to commercialize this technology through a startup called Sound Life Sciences. They are also working on expanding the capabilities of the system to work with other soothing noises such as lullabies.

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