Internet of Things technology has been credited with saving people time and money in recent years, but potentially helping parents save their baby’s life?
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) claimed the lives of about 1,500 babies in 2014, according to the CDC, and is among some of the most serious concerns first-time parents may have for their newborn. With this in mind, one company has developed a product that could give parents a heads-up should their child’s vital signs become distressed.
A startup that makes a small clothing accessory featuring even smaller wireless technology that notifies a baby’s caretakers when he or she is having difficulty breathing is gaining traction in the IoT marketplace.
PYMNTS recently spoke with Jake Colvin, cofounder of Owlet Baby Care, to discuss the company’s IoT-connected sock, dubbed the “Owlet Smart Sock,” that monitors an infant’s heart rate and oxygen levels and alerts parents when something is potentially wrong with their baby’s health.
Overcoming The Obstacles
From inception to implementation, Owlet Baby Care spent more than three years developing the product, and to say the company encountered difficulties along the way might be an understatement.
“We’re using technology that’s much smaller and robust than what has been done in the past, so there were a lot of challenges in getting manufacturing lined up that actually worked well for this … because it’s never been done,” Colvin said.
The Provo, Utah-based company spent thousands of hours working with parents and other professionals, researching the best way to address their concerns, while also producing an effective product. The company conducted the majority of its beta testing in Utah but also did some testing nationwide and internationally.
Early into the testing, a local family that had lost a child to SIDS prior to Owlet’s Smart Sock becoming available found out about the product and asked to participate in the program.
“When they did have another baby, we got them a unit for beta testing. For that family, it not only was the first time that they had been able to sleep at the same time [while] one of their kids slept, which was fantastic in and of itself, but through product use, they were also able to find some health concerns that had not been seen with their infant and were able to get the medical attention they needed,” Colvin said. “So, there wasn’t that risk of losing another child.”
The Birth Of An IoT Device
Following the extensive testing phase, Owlet ultimately designed a neutral-colored baby sock that features a small watch-like rechargeable battery that wirelessly monitors the infant’s vital signs and communicates with a base station using Bluetooth technology.
The base station is able to “talk” through the home’s Wi-Fi, where it connects and sends data to the company’s cloud-based servers so that they can connect to the mobile app and platform.
While the company’s focus has always been to create a solution that provides parents with peace of mind, Colvin said, Owlet didn’t plan on being an IoT business. But once the design process got underway, the company quickly found itself diving into unchartered waters.
“We didn’t set out to create an Internet of Things device,” Colvin said. “It just happened that, in order to get the size constraints we needed, the ability to have a lot of memory and things like that to make this fit and work in the way we need for our specific use case [was limited].”
“It just naturally flowed to cloud-based storage, data storage, and it kind of grew out of the need rather than trying to specifically target having an Internet of Things-connected device,” he added.
The fabric sock, which features removable and flexible electronics and a battery that needs to be recharged after 20–24 hours of use, is designed to grow with the baby.
The base station plugs into the wall and can send out specific notifications depending on the situation. For example, the Owlet station displays a slow-pulsing green light if it’s getting a good reading, but if the sock disconnects from Bluetooth, the light glows blue. It glows yellow and is accompanied by a song if the sock falls off.
If a baby’s vital signs fall outside the set parameters, an alarm sounds, and the base station flashes red.
A primary differentiator between the Owlet Smart Sock and hospital monitors is that the sock is primarily intended for healthy babies, whereas hospital technology is generally for the seriously ill, Colvin said. While hospital monitors have false alerts or different kinds of alarms triggered on a regular basis, he said, the Owlet sock, on average, only issues one alert every two weeks.
Owlet Care’s mobile app enables parents to set alarm preferences and get real-time updates regarding their baby’s vital signs whether they’re at home or away.
Finding A Toehold In The Marketplace
After working through numerous iterations, Owlet Care’s product finally launched in Oct. 2015. The product has already gained traction on the open market, selling 50,000 units in its first 10 months on the market, according to Colvin.
Owlet Care is already collecting a significant amount of data, recording at least 620 million heartbeats per day, according to Colvin, but the long-term goal is to have the Owlet Smart Sock in every family’s household where there is a newborn.
The Owlet sock, which costs about $250 and can be purchased on the website, is shipped with three socks (sizes 1–3) that accommodate a child up to 18 months.
What’s Next For Connected Babies?
Colvin anticipates there being a rise in wearable IoT tech products similar to the Owlet Smart Sock hitting the market in the near future, even to the point where there could be some type of monitor on every baby.
The company also hopes to expand upon their current partnerships to grow their solution offerings.
“We’d like to add additional products that are in this same space and really put together a connected platform for care and wellness,” Colvin said. The company hopes to eventually move from just being consumer-based to also working with medical entities and providing care not only for babies who are healthy and come home that way but also for those with serious health conditions.
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