Interview With Owlet: A Smart Sock Infant Monitoring System That Wirelessly Tracks An Infant's Vitals

Owlet is an innovation-driven startup that has grown a cult-like following for its technologically advanced 'smart sock' for infants. This 'smart sock' works by proactively monitoring an infant's pulse and oxygen levels, transmitting the data to a wireless home base center on the parents' nightstand so they can be alerted if their child stops breathing. 

With 83% of Owlet users reporting better sleep, this is the kind of technology that does have the capacity to change how parents monitor the health of their infant more effectively and in a way that allows greater peace of mind. 

We sat down with the Owlet team to dive deeper into their story and learn more about how they hope to help new parents. Check out our interview below!

What is the inspiration or story behind how Owlet was created? What are your driving philosophies?

Kurt Workman (now CEO and co-founder of Owlet) was watching his premature twin cousins and saw the stress and anxiety that came along with a newborn. He thought that there had to be something better on the market to help parents watch over their little ones. When he learned about pulse oximetry and how that technology tracks heart rate and oxygen levels, he knew he had to make this incredible technology available to parents.

In 2013, Kurt and a team of passionate parents came together to provide parents peace of mind with incredible technology miniaturized into a snuggly Smart Sock your little one wears to bed. To this day we are committed to making Owlet for every family to empower parents with this incredible technology as well as educating them about safe sleep practices to implement in their own home.

What is the main problem that Owlet seeks to solve for customers?

Accidental suffocation is a serious tragedy that happens far too often in our homes. A baby is 18X more likely to pass away in their crib than they are in the car in an automobile accident. To put that in perspective, 190 babies passed away in a car accident last year, but over 3,000 passed away in their crib at home. We have a car seat to protect our children in the car, but we have nothing to protect them in the crib. Parents need a car seat for the crib, and that’s where Owlet comes in, designed to notify parents if their baby’s oxygen level falls outside of a preset range.  We hope that in five years from now, every baby will leave the hospital with a monitor like Owlet to help parents watch over their little one when they are sleeping.

Before Owlet, what were the most common tools or methods for new parents to monitor the health of infant? How is Owlet revolutionizing that?

Before Owlet there were three monitoring options for parents to choose from: video, sound or movement. The problem with these different monitoring systems is that the parent needs to be awake and alert, constantly watching or listening for these monitors to be effective. And even with the help of video and audio monitors, you still don’t get the full picture about your baby’s wellbeing.

With Owlet there is no obsessive watching or listening required to get the most out of the monitor. Parents can put the Smart Sock on their baby and let Owlet work in the background of their life and it’s designed to notify them if their baby’s heart rate or oxygen levels fall out of the preset range. There’s something empowering about this technology and its design to work without your constant attention that parents need in order to get the rest they deserve.

How is Owlet empowering new parents who bring their infants home?

Owlet gives parents confidence when they bring their newborn home. We hear all the time that parents are nervous to leave the hospital and lose the help of the hospital monitors and nurses. What’s great about Owlet is that when a parent leaves the hospital, they get to take a piece of that technology home with them, pulse oximetry. Owlet does not claim to be a medical device by any means, but it utilizes that same technology and makes it appropriate for the home. Owlet helps provide parents with much-needed peace of mind.

What are the different technologies used in the development or use of the Owlet smart sock? (Pulse oximetry, smartphone app, sock material, etc)? How do the smart sock, base center, and app work together?

Owlet uses pulse oximetry, the same technology used in hospitals to track baby’s heart rate and oxygen levels. You have probably seen pulse oximetry used in the clip they put on your finger when you go to the hospital. Owlet miniaturized that technology and placed it in cuddly baby sock made from organic cotton, for baby to wear while they are sleeping. Pulse oximetry is safe, proven and accurate, and it has been used by doctors and nurses for centuries.  

Owlet uses Bluetooth Low Energy and Wi-Fi to communicate between the Smart Sock, Base Station and your Smart Phone. The Smart Sock uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to send baby’s live heart rate and oxygen levels to the Base Station. The Base Station then uses Wi-Fi to send baby’s live vitals right to the parent’s Smart Phone.

What were some of the challenges experienced while first prototyping this technology?

One of the biggest obstacles we faced as we first started creating prototypes was the size of the battery and how that played into fitting an infant's foot comfortably. The original design of the Owlet Smart Sock was a bulky ankle and heel strap due to the large battery needed to power the pulse oximeter. Over time our incredible team of engineers discovered how they could power the pulse oximeter with a coin cell battery (like what you’ll find in your wrist watch). Once they discovered this, the design and aesthetics improved dramatically as we were able to shrink down to our smaller, more cuddly, Smart Sock. 

Over the past 3 years, we have learned so much and continued to innovate.

Can the smart sock be integrated to work with other forms of smart technology becoming more common?

This is definitely something we have in mind as we continue research and development. In everything we do, we always make sure it ties back to our mission and vision. At this time, we don’t have any news or updates to share. 

How are your customers finding you and how do you sell to customers? (e-commerce, retail, social media, etc) Have you found your high price point to limit your customer base?

We have a great following on social media and get a lot of attention on our Facebook and Instagram pages. Parents love seeing the Smart Sock in action and seeing how it’s changing people’s lives. We really let the Smart Sock speak for itself on our social channels and that really drives a lot of interest in parents. They are able to see the benefit of the sock and why they need it for their family.

For the most part, the price is not a limit for us because parents really understand the value of Owlet. They know it’s not just a cute gadget that’s cool to have. It’s so much more than that and parents understand that they are getting a device that gives them the most vital information about their baby to empower them with incredible knowledge about their baby’s wellbeing. We also communicate on our website and social channels that we didn’t take any shortcuts when making Owlet. We want the best materials and product for every baby so we took the time to create the best product possible, even if that means it costs a little more.

Owlet is currently sold almost exclusively direct to consumer through our website. We are expanding into specialty baby stores and boutiques and will be available in big box retailers in 2017.

Have there been any memorable stories from parents who use the Owlet smart sock?

Owlet has notified 26 families, and counting, when their baby’s oxygen level fell below the preset range. One mom in particular accidentally fell asleep while breastfeeding and her baby rolled under her arm and could not breath. Luckily, her baby was wearing Owlet and a red notification sounded for low oxygen and woke the mom up. In another instance, a mom woke up to a red notification and when she checked on her son, he had formula coming out of his nose and was unable to breathe.

We don’t know what would have happened without Owlet, but both of these moms expressed that they are glad they didn’t have to find out.  

Aside from Owlet, how do you think smart clothing generally can change the way individuals manage their own or others’ health?

When you look at products like Owlet, TempTraq and Fitbit there’s one thing in common. Smart clothing is empowering people with information that’s never been recorded and analyzed before. With Owlet we’re collecting the largest set of infant data ever recorded. There’s something incredible knowing that the work we’re doing here at Owlet has the potential to uncover mind blowing statistics and data about infant health that we’ve never been aware of previously.


Visit Owlet Baby Care's website here.

Aptly named, Enclothed Cognition is the official Medelita blog for medical professionals interested in topics relevant to a discerning and inquisitive audience. Medelita was founded by a licensed clinician who felt strongly about the connection between focus, poise and appearance.

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