Health applications may not have a giant share of the 100,000+ Amazon Alexa smart speaker Skills, but we’ve found an interesting assortment of voice-enabled health and medical tools that take advantage of the open Alexa Toolkit. Alexa helps ambulance attendance follow emergency response protocols in New England, answers questions about health in the U.K., and supports senior independent living in Texas.

Researchers at the University of Washington’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering and the UW School of Medicine recently presented their findings with a skill called BreathJunior at MobiCom 2019. The researchers developed BreathJunior to simultaneously monitor sleeping babies’ breathing and movement while generating soothing white noise. The multiple microphones in Amazon Echo smart speakers establish a far-field array with which the researchers can extrapolate data based on the differences of sound received by each microphone.

Based on the reflected white noise signals picked up by the microphone array, the BreathJunior skill distinguishes respiratory rates, abnormal breathing patterns, and baby movement, according to the UW team. After initial trials with an infant simulator, the UW researchers tested the skill with five babies in a neonatal intensive care unit. The Alexa skill detected respiratory rates similar to rated measured by standard hospital vital sign monitors.

The UW team is careful to avoid any claim that BreathJunior could reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The researchers do suggest, however, that the BreathJunior skill could have potential use for parents who want to monitor their child’s breathing and movement and for clinical wireless respiratory monitoring.