How Smart Speakers Can Track Your Heart Rate

Will you say goodbye to your Fitbit?

Key Takeaways

  • A recent study shows how smart home speakers can track your heart rate just as well as fitness tracker wearables. 
  • Smart home speakers could be useful in telehealth situations for remote health tracking. 
  • Experts say this type of contactless monitoring is the future of tracking your health data.
An Amazon Echo sitting on a wooden surface.
Erlon Silva - TRI Digital / Getty Images

Besides taking commands and playing music, your smart home speakers could have the potential to accurately read heart rates, according to a recent study. 

The University of Washington study reveals that smart speakers are just as accurate, if not more so, than fitness-tracking wearables or smartwatches. Experts say that smart speakers could be more utilized for health applications in the future, especially in a telehealth world. 

"We believe that telehealth is the future, but Zoom meetings are not enough," wrote Anran Wang, co-author of the study and research assistant at the Network and Mobile System Lab at the University of Washington, to Lifewire in an email. 

"The equipment that nowadays is only available in hospitals should have their alternatives for home use, and even better, by reusing existing devices."

What the Study Found

The study used standard smart home speakers many people already have in their homes, such as the Amazon Echo or the Google Nest. While the technology described in the paper is not available in these devices right now, the study shows what is possible in the future. 

Arun Sridhar, a co-author of the study and a cardiac electrophysiologist at the University of Washington, said that when people sat one to two feet away from a smart speaker, the speaker could pick up their heart rates using inaudible sound wave frequencies, similar to how sonar technology works. 

"The next decade is going to be about contactless monitoring without having to wear a device."

He said the error margin was within a beat per minute of professional electrocardiogram (ECG) devices.

The study looked at both healthy participants without a history of heart problems and patients with heart implants. The smart speakers successfully read both groups' heart rates. 

"The increasing adoption of smart speakers in hospitals and homes may provide a means to realize the potential of our non-contact cardiac rhythm monitoring system for monitoring of contagious or quarantined patients, skin sensitive patients, and in telemedicine settings," the study reads. 

Smart Speakers or Wearables? 

Most people have a smartwatch, a smart speaker, or both, but the study’s authors said the future of health tracking could very well lie in smart speakers. 

Since most smartwatches don’t have ECG sensors—except for a handful of newer models— Sridhar said smart speakers could prove to have multiple uses in health tracking. 

"Smart speakers could be used for fitness monitoring for healthy people to track their fitness or their post-exercise heart rate," he said. "The other aspect is that they could be used as a screening tool to catch early signs of heart disease."

Someone using a smart watch to monitor their heart rate.
Westend61 / Getty Images

The benefit of smart speakers tracking your heart rate is that they can continuously do so over long periods. However, Wang notes there are still some drawbacks. 

"Smart speakers, albeit cheap and unobtrusive, have their own limitations, such as that they sit in our bedroom rather than follow us, so they cannot track our health if we are out," Wang said.

On the other side, Wang said that wearables need frequent charging, strict sanitation if used by more than one person, and may cause skin allergies, along with the fact that not every wearable or smartwatch has ECG capabilities. Instead, Wang said both devices could be utilized.

"I don't think one would replace another, but they would be collectively used in different scenarios," he said. 

Overall, the study's authors say the future of health tracking will be less intrusive for patients and easier to access with devices they already have in their homes. 

"The next decade is going to be about contactless monitoring without having to wear a device," Sridhar said.

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