Chief Technology Officer and Owlet Co-Founder Zack Bomsta shares a glimpse into the comprehensive process of developing the new Smart Sock and tackling some of the biggest design and technical hurdles.
At Owlet, our mission is to empower parents with the right information at the right time to keep baby safe, healthy, and happy, and we’ve been able to do just that for more than a million parents over the last 5 years. As a company of passionate employees and parents dedicated to this mission, we celebrate, and often get teary-eyed, every time we receive a story from a grateful parent describing how their Owlet Smart Sock helped them when Baby needed them most. It’s been an incredible privilege to receive over 1,300 stories like this.
Unfortunately, we’ve also received feedback from parents describing reasons why previous versions of the Owlet Smart Sock just didn’t work for them. Reasons like: the Sock just didn’t fit their baby’s foot, or their baby only sleeps in a rocking bassinet where the movement made it impossible to get heart rate and oxygen readings, or the sock just notified too much because the sensor placement was slightly off. It was this valuable feedback that made us determined to do better. We knew that if we were going to fulfill our mission to its fullest extent, we had to do better. We committed ourselves to a multi-year resolution to completely redesign the Smart Sock to work for every baby and every parent, and then got to work.
The first challenge was to drastically reduce unnecessary notifications caused by poor sock placement. We needed to make the Sock more sensitive so that it could pick up baby’s heart rate and oxygen signals even in the most challenging scenarios. We worked closely with LED and analog sensor experts to test dozens of components and identify the absolute best in class. We paired these components with meticulous electronic design efforts to create our most sensitive and accurate sensor yet, and the result was far fewer unnecessary alerts.
Next, we knew we had to create a Smart Sock that could monitor through gentle motion so that parents didn’t have to choose between using their Smart Sock or their rocking bassinet. This is where our data science team jumped in. They worked tirelessly to craft a machine learning algorithm that tracks heart rate and oxygen level even when Baby is wiggling or rocking. Now parents can enjoy peace of mind wherever sleep happens.
Finally, for our biggest challenge, we had to figure out how to make the Sock fit on every foot regardless of shape or size. Too often we heard from parents who came home from the hospital, excited to use their Owlet Smart Sock, only to find that their baby’s feet were still too small for the Sock. Simultaneously, we were hearing parents ask for even bigger fabric socks because their 9-month-old had already outgrown the largest size.
After spending countless hours trying to build true-to-life baby foot models to help us accurately capture the wide variety of shapes and sizes, our models still weren’t good enough. So we bought a 3D scanner and partnered with a children’s hospital in Minnesota to help us collect the largest baby foot data set in the world. At one point, we had scanned and 3D printed hundreds of feet and were starting to feel like it would be impossible to make the sensor and sock small enough for the size of feet we had printed—but we didn’t give up. We doubled down on our efforts and gave every developer working on the project a 3D print of the smallest foot we had. It was a stark reminder of what we needed to accomplish. It became our rallying cry, our motivation to overcome what we thought to be impossible. After hundreds of prototypes and iterations, we finally did it! We created a Smart Sock small enough to fit on the smallest of feet coming home from the hospital and big enough to be worn by the largest 18-month-old babies.
In addition to these enhancements, we included faster, more convenient wireless drop-and-go charging and upgraded the wireless antennas to offer more Bluetooth range. With all of these improvements, we couldn’t be more excited to introduce the Owlet Smart Sock Gen 3 to the world! With improved sensitivity and accuracy, the ability to monitor through Baby’s wiggles and gentle motion, and an extended range of fit, we feel we have finally created the Smart Sock for every baby and every parent.