Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Julian Jagtenberg is one of the founders of Somnox - world's first sleep robot that works by using scientifically proven cognitive and simulated human breathing techniques to accelerate the process of falling asleep. Founded in 2015, Somnox is headquartered out of the YES!Delft Tech Incubator in The Netherlands and currently has multiple patents pending.
As an industrial design engineer that studied at the University of Technology Delft and his passion for soft robotics, his mission is to develop soft robotics to contribute to health and well being. With multiple design and engineering awards (James Dyson award, Philips Innovation award, Robotdalen Innovation award and Sprout 25 under 25) and raising 200% on Kickstarter he is determined to get the very best of robotics to help live a happier and healthier live.
What is the idea behind Somnox and how did you come up with it?
One out of five people in the world suffer from sleep deprivation. According to a recent report from the CDC, more than a third of American adults do not get enough sleep. The Somnox sleep robot works by using scientifically proven cognitive and simulated human breathing techniques to accelerate the process of falling asleep. The proprietary technology inside Somnox includes multiple sensors, including a CO2 sensor to sense breathing, an accelerometer to detect movement, a microphone to play audio, and an intelligent algorithm to soothe the user to sleep. Users snuggle with the Somnox and subconsciously replicate the breathing rhythm of the soft robot.
Research has shown that breathing is essential to naturally reduce stress and increase relaxation. The user also focuses his or her thoughts on the breathing rhythm of the Somnox sleep robot, calming a busy mind.
Additionally, the Somnox sleep robot can provide users with audio. Soothing sounds such as heartbeats, lullabies, white noise and guided meditation are included in the accompanying app, which is available on both iPhone and Android smartphones. Users can also upload personal audio files to the app. Personal preferences can be set during the day and ensure a tailored approach to improve the user’s sleep during the night.
During our time studying, we began seeing close family members of us suffer from sleep deprivation as well. That’s how we got to know the impact to the lives of our closest ones: tiredness, lack of energy and health problems.
We found that the primary treatment they used for these problems were sleeping pills. While those can be effective for the shorter term, they can be harmful and addictive in the long run. Trying to solve this global issue, we aimed to create a non-medical solution that uses the technology of tomorrow.
When did all start and do you have other members in your team?
It all started two and a half years ago at the robotics institute at the University of Delft. We began with Stijn, Job, Wouter and myself. Slowly our team built out and we’re currently with a team of 18, combined of enthusiasts and the experienced.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
Looking at Somnox in particular, two and a half years. But don't forget the years of study and experience to get to this point in general.
We received feedback from more than 5,000 people over the course of 24 months of research and development, which resulted in hundreds of prototype iterations. To ensure the best product possible, we carried out 57 intensive sleep trajectories with selected test sleepers. Our teamof designers co-designed the sleep robot with Royal Auping, Europe’s leading circular mattress manufacturer, to provide the ultimate comfort through a sustainable product with high quality materials.
What was the biggest obstacle?
The mechanics in the sleep robot were making some mechanical noise in the beginning. It required 6 months of die hard engineering and custom actuator design to get the sleep robot to move absolutely silent. Since if you're falling asleep in the bedroom, you don't want to hear it snoring. Next to that, the feeling of breathing should feel very natural, just like a living organism. We managed to achieve this but it took a lot of perseverance.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
We had a whole lot of them. Our biggest was probably the launch after our first prototype, around two years ago. It was the moment we realized we should put everything aside to make our dream a reality. That's when our second biggest achievement happened. We launched a Kickstarter campaign last month, where we exceeded our funding goal with 200%. This validated our idea and makes us stronger to eventually succeed in bringing the world better sleep. Getting the recognition from big publications such as the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, being named in the 'Best of CES' lists, was also a dream coming true for us.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in?
Lots of skepticism.
Lots of people that are desperately looking for a solution to sleep better however having a hard time to identify which product can help them.
Nowadays lots of startups claim to make products that contribute to a better night's rest. However, not everyone is conscious about the cause of their sleep deprivation. As a entrepreneur in this niche it's very important to be very specific in what way you are unique and how you can help people achieve their goals.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all founders and entrepreneurs in health tech?
Be personally motivated for the mission that you have. You should have some personal reason why you are doing this. The health tech sector is a rough one. You can't go to market in one year. It requires dedication and a long term vision with a lot of pitfalls. If you are passionate about your mission you can do it. Require the best talent to join your team and make it work.
What will be the key trends in the health tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
Lots of repetitive tasks will be substituted by robots and automated scripts. From the OR to the pharmacy there will be more robots helping out. They should be seen as additions rather than substitutes of what is. Now the professionals can focus on truly user centered approach. And thus putting the patient in the centre, focussing on more personal treatments.
Next to that I think there will be a huge shift from 'sick'- care to healthcare. Where we finally start to focus on preventing diseases rather that treating them alone.
Usually, health-tech is 10 years behind the consumer tech world. Nowadays, clinical trials take up a lot of time.
But I see a lot of fast track validation studies and new frameworks that can realize entry to market in a faster pace than we have ever seen before.
Who are your 3 inspirational people in health tech?
1. Dominik Schumacher - Founder & CEO Tubulis Technologies - Creating hyper targeted antibodies to cure cancer
2. Carsten Mahrenholz - Founder & CEO Cold Plasmatech - Creating star trek technology to heal wounds in a matter of seconds
3. Ben Ryan - Founder & CEO Ambionics - Creating bionic limbs for children
For more information visit http://somnox.nl.
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.