Data Innovators The Owlet Baby Monitor

Published on February 19th, 2014 | by Travis Korte

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5 Q’s for Wearable Health Expert Jacob Colvin

The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Jacob Colvin, the founder and chief creative officer of Owlet, a wearable health technology company that produces the Owlet Baby Monitor. Colvin discussed the technological improvements that have enabled Owlet’s devices and his company’s plans to give parents secure access to their babies’ raw data.

Travis Korte: Can you give a brief introduction to the “smart sock” product, and how parents can monitor the data using an app?

Jacob Colvin: The Owlet Baby Monitor, in its simplest sense, is a sock that wirelessly monitors an infant’s vital signs with hospital technology, and reports the information back to the parent’s smartphone. Owlet is at the crossroads of several major tech movements currently taking place: wearable tech, Internet-connected devices, home health care, and the quantified self. By combining key pieces of technology from each of these, and redesigning it into small, waterproof, and flexible electronics, parent’s have access to their baby’s overall health at a glance, receiving meaningful insight into how their baby currently is doing, and can track their infant’s health overtime, all on an a app. Through the app, parents will also receive health updates and alerts if their child experiences sudden changes to their health, and can input and log other important data,  such as feedings, all in one convenient place.

The core technology in the sock itself is called pulse oximetry; most often recognized as that little red light doctors place on your finger to measure your vital signs. Redesigning pulse oximetry, wireless communications, and data processing for an infant’s small, but growing foot was no easy task. But by doing so, Owlet aims to provide parents with the peace of mind and rest they need, answering their most pressing question: “Is my baby ok?”

TK: A biometric baby monitor seems, in hindsight, like a no-brainer. Why don’t you think devices like this have caught on before?

JC: We asked ourselves the same question when we went out to validate our first product. I think a major reason why devices like this haven’t caught on before, was due to a lack of some key components in the technology in the past.

Technology has come a long way, and the realm of Internet-connected devices is just now becoming more mainstream. Although pulse oximetry itself has been around for decades, advancements in chip production and especially size are what allow us to take that same technology and make it 1/80th the size of pulse oximeters currently found in hospitals. Battery technology and communications have also come a long way, again decreasing the size of components, allowing complex systems to be small enough for a new born baby’s foot.

TK: Do you have any plans to go after other sorts of biometric data that might be helpful for parents? Blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, etc…

JC: The Owlet Baby Monitor is only the first of several products we’d like to bring to market, all in the wearable tech and health space. Even our current monitor has come a long way, and what started as a breathing monitor has grown into an overall health tracker, giving insight into heart rate and oxygen levels, skin temperature, sleep quality and patterns, and more. We are beginning to work with several different universities on various infant studies that will use our product to gather their desired data, allowing the current biometrics to improve, and parent’s to receive even more insight.

TK: Do parents currently have access to their baby’s raw data? If not, does Owlet anticipate granting access in the future?

JC: Currently, the app is designed to show quick updates and insights based on the infant’s raw data, but the data itself will not be displayed. However, the data will be available in other formats, such as online through a secure login, and in the near future will be available for personal records and in printable or downloadable format for parents and caregivers.

TK: Is your target audience for the product just parents, or are you hoping hospitals will one day use it as well?

JC: Although parents are the primary users, and ultimately stand to gain the most benefit from our products, we’ve been in fairly regular contact with hospitals, pediatricians, and other experts in the medical field from very early on in the development process and have had a tremendous amount of positive feedback. While only a consumer version is currently available, we are actively pursuing future use in the medical space.

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About the Author

Travis Korte is a research analyst at the Center for Data Innovation specializing in data science applications and open data. He has a background in journalism, computer science and statistics. Prior to joining the Center for Data Innovation, he launched the Science vertical of The Huffington Post and served as its Associate Editor, covering a wide range of science and technology topics. He has worked on data science projects with HuffPost and other organizations. Before this, he graduated with highest honors from the University of California, Berkeley, having studied critical theory and completed coursework in computer science and economics. His research interests are in computational social science and using data to engage with complex social systems. You can follow him on Twitter @traviskorte.



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