Watching baby's breath Watching baby's breath Watching baby's breath

UW researchers create a smart speaker that can soothe and monitor a sleeping baby.

By Sarah McQuate | Photo by Dennis Wise | March 2020

A team from UW Medicine and the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering has used hardware similar to an Amazon Echo to create BreathJunior, a smart speaker that plays white noise and records how the noise is reflected back to detect the breathing motions of an infant’s chest.

“We sought to develop a system that combines soothing white noise with the ability to unobtrusively measure an infant’s motion and breathing,” says Jacob Sunshine, assistant professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine.

With National Science Foundation funding, the team developed a device to track both small motions (such as breathing), and large motions (such as moving around in a crib). It can also pick up the sound of crying.

“In just a few years, we have come a long way from monitoring large motions in adults to extracting the tiny motion of a newborn infant’s breathing,” says Shyam Gollakota, associate professor of computer science  and engineering who leads the UW Computing for Health group.

What’s next? Perhaps a medical tricorder (think “Star Trek”) that can, without physical contact, monitor a variety of vital signs.