A gentle robot for babies

A gentle robot for babies

The question that Dr. Karp sought to answer was, Is there a way to utilize robotic technology, AI and design to create the world’s first smart baby sleeper; a bed that could automatically deliver the 5 S’s to calm infant crying and to help babies—and exhausted new parents—get more sleep?”

Harvey invited me to join the project to develop a design for this special sleeper—called, SNOO. I wanted to create a baby bed as elegantly simple and organically natural as Dr. Karp’s five-step technique. It had to be easy to use, provide a sense of trust and comfort and fit beautifully into the context of any home. I was excited by the challenge of developing an intelligent and timeless design to redefine the concept of infant sleep for the 21st century.

As I sketched out the aesthetic language, my initial goal was to give Harvey and his engineers a form factor upon which they could base a series of prototypes. We joked that SNOO would be a robotic version of Harvey himself. Of course, it was also very important that SNOO not look like a traditional robot or piece of technology. Its purpose, after all, was to naturally blend into the coziness and warmth of a baby nursery.

During this multiyear process, I refined the industrial design and worked to merge it with the functional requirements and aspirational nature of the mission: transparent, ultra-safe, pure and iconic. Meanwhile, the Happiest Baby team tested SNOO with hundreds of babies. Their top priorities were meeting the bed’s unique motion/sound/responsiveness requirements, ensuring reliability and achieving a level of safety that met or exceeded all regulations and standards.

The experience indeed is very straightforward: First, the baby is easily swaddled in the SNOO sleep sack and secured on the bed. Once turned on, SNOO provides womb-like motion and calming sound all night long (exactly what babies enjoy 24/7 in the womb). SNOO is also constantly vigilant. When the baby fusses, it responds in seconds with increasing motion and sound – just like parents do – to find the right level of sensation for calming that baby, at that time. SNOO is often able to calm even the worst crying jags and help babies fall asleep.

Each element of SNOO was highly considered for its safety, functional efficiency, visual and material quality, and comfort. For the main enclosure, the curved structural elements hold a double layer of mesh. There are three microphones to detect the baby’s cry and help differentiate it from outside noises. Below the mattress are the sensors, speakers and a robotic engine that power the intelligent response of SNOO. Underneath, the hairpin-style legs safely and beautifully support the entire assembly. The outer layer of textile mesh is firm with larger openings to facilitate the flow of fresh air and to make the baby visible inside the bassinet, a feature that enhances the parents’ feeling of connection to – and protection of – the baby. The inner layer of mesh, connected to the platform supporting the baby, is extremely flexible, which allows it to move and distort with the swinging motion. The structure holding the mesh layers hides the microphones that listen for the baby’s cry, while the speakers and all other technology lie hidden under the mattress, deep in the body of the bed. The height of the bassinet was carefully selected to maximize the visibility of the baby to the parent lying alongside SNOO in bed.

The SNOO swaddle was a full design process in and of itself as it has to hold the baby with the perfect amount of snug embrace to emulate the womb, while maintaining a comfortable temperature, and still affording the swinging motion that rocks them to sleep. Made of organic cotton, the swaddle carries the mesh motif to maximize breathability for temperature control. Putting the swaddle on is very simple, and both the swaddle and bassinet are designed for easy cleaning.

The swaddle is also equipped with a set of attachment points which secure the sack onto both sides of the sleeper and prevent the baby from accidentally rolling to an unsafe position. This feature is so important that SNOO’s action is blocked unless both swaddle wings are properly hooked in place. This crucial safety measure makes SNOO safer than any other crib or bassinet.

SNOO is also a connected device. We designed a very simple app to allow parents to see at a glance exactly which one of the 5 levels the smart sleeper has been activated. We wanted the convenience of Wi-Fi without any negative effects. So we conducted two independent laboratory studies to make sure that babies in SNOO have no exposure to Wi-Fi radiation. And, we further assured protection by placing a metal Wi-Fi shield in the platform of the bed, between the baby and the module and by allowing Wi-Fi to be completely turned off at the touch of a button.

Parents are very interested in knowing how much their baby is sleeping—the number of naps he takes, how long it takes him to go to sleep, the amount of times he wakes during the night. Upcoming versions of the app will self-populate that information to offer parents daily read-outs of their baby’s sleep patterns.

We designed this product to maximize the baby’s comfort and safety, benefits that parents find are invaluable. SNOO enhances my ability as a parent, empowering me to provide the best care possible for my baby, while supporting my own health. This is the potential that robotic technology has in our lives—packaged inside a beautiful, safe, comfortable sleeper. I can actually say I rest easier knowing there is a robot in my baby’s room.

One of my favorite principles is that design accelerates the adoption of new ideas. Robots can be seen as an engineering feat, but with Hollywood dystopian undertones. They don’t exactly have a “cuddly” reputation. On the other hand, baby furniture is often very plasticky and cliché, made cheaply and not to last. For me, however, the right design thinking applied to advanced technology can create a whole new era of robots capable of increasing the everyday joy of being human, by simplifying our lives and making our homes more beautiful.

After five years of designing, engineering and prototyping, Harvey and I are thrilled to announce SNOO—smart sleeper—the robotic baby bed that can help comfort crying, keep babies safely positioned, improve parents’ ability to read their babies’ cues, and help provide much needed sleep for both parents and children.

Read more about the design here

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