Ben Bronsther is the co-founder of Ultradia and a creator of Chrona, a memory-foam insert that goes inside your pillowcase and tracks your sleep based on the movements of your head and torso. In answer to my questions, he shared his insights on our collective national sleep deprivation, the possibilities and limits of wearable sleep technology, and what he learned in the process of developing Chrona.
Why did you see a need for Chrona? What inspired you to create the product?
People are not sleeping well, and that is personally and professionally taxing. In fact, sleep-deprived American workers are estimated to cost $63 billion a year in terms of lost productivity. In a climate like this, where nearly one third of the workforce is reporting an average sleep duration of six hours or less, we saw the need for a new sleep-optimization system.
Chrona was inspired by the facts above, emerging sleep research and the rise (and shortcomings) of activity trackers. We realized that most people do not want to wear a plastic bracelet to sleep, and that even for those who do, many were not capitalizing on the collected data. So we set out to create a wearable-free sleep-optimization solution that was as comfortable as it was effective, and three years, 10 engineers and six iterations later, Chrona was born.
What did you consider when designing a product to make our pillows “smart”?
When designing Chrona, we considered the fact that in our increasingly busy lives many people can no longer afford a full night’s sleep. We realized that while we may not be able to make people sleep longer, we could help people sleep better without spending more time in bed. What was important to us was that Chrona improved your sleep while you sleep, and that it was comfortable and unobtrusive.
Describe your Kickstarter campaign. What level of interest did you get? What did people have to say about Chrona?
What a lot of people might not know is that Kickstarter is more than just a platform on which to fundraise; it is also one of the best places to cultivate press, find partners and learn what your customers really want. After our campaign launched, it was not long before industry players — both large and small — started to reach out with potential partnership opportunities. Even better, the feedback from our supporters led us to make some changes to the system in order to satisfy what was clearly desired. For example, our system was originally supposed to be battery-operated; now it is rechargeable. And as per requests, we have implemented a power-nap feature. Features like these and the gentle, vibrating alarm were always viewed as secondary to us, but Kickstarter helped us realize that these were important to our customers. Ultimately 833 backers came together to help us reach 190 percent of our funding goal; almost all of them pre-ordered their own Chrona.
Did you have a target demographic in mind when creating Chrona?
Yes, when creating Chrona, we had young, upwardly mobile professionals in mind. But we have learned that interest is much more far-reaching. In fact, it seems that the overwhelming interest in Chrona stems from both young people and those aged 45 to 60. Clearly a lot of people are not satisfied with their current quality of sleep, and we would like to change that. For the time being, we will continue to market towards professional young people. They seem very receptive to our tech and brand.
What do you see as the future of the sleep-tech business?
Chrona is the foundation of a much larger vision for Ultradia. Our sensor-sheet framework combined with the self-optimizing machine learning algorithm we developed allow us to easily implement additional sensors as we move forward. We have plans to transform Chrona into a powerful home polysomnography (PSG) device. In fact, we already hold a patent on the methodology for measuring EEG data via a sensor sheet, though I should say that for now we are focused on the consumer space. Prediction for the future of the sleep-tech business? The work we and others are doing has the potential to fundamentally change the way we understand and approach sleep, sleep-disorder diagnoses and sleep-disorder treatment. I think at-home PSG devices will largely replace, or at least evolve the role of, traditional sleep labs. Also, we believe there could be applications for other states of unconsciousness, namely anesthesia and coma monitoring and treatment.
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