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Device allows parents to monitor newborns' vital signs with smartphone, computer

SALT LAKE CITY — New parents often find themselves overwhelmed by the responsibility of taking care of a child.

Besides the everyday issues of care, there can also be concerns about the child's health-related well-being.

To that end, a group of Utah County entrepreneurs is introducing a device that allows parents to monitor the vital signs of their infants using their mobile phone or computer.

Owlet Baby Care, founded last year, has developed the first baby “smart sock” that transmits a child’s heart rate, oxygen levels, skin temperature, sleep quality and sleep position to a parent’s smartphone or other Internet-based device.

First-time Utah County mother Erica Morgan, 21, gave birth to a healthy baby boy about two months ago. She said the health of her son, Benson, has been a huge concern due mostly to others' past experiences.

“Being a new mom, I’m always afraid that he is going to stop breathing in the middle of the night and I won’t know,” Morgan said. “I had a friend (whose) baby died of (sudden infant death syndrome) when she was 4 months old.”

The fact the she can use her smartphone to check Benson's breathing and oxygen levels rather poking him in the middle of the night to make sure he is OK is a big relief, Morgan said.

“For me, it will be useful for at least the first year because that’s when they are most susceptible to SIDS,” she said.

While similar to devices used in hospitals, the Owlet Vitals Monitor is not a medical device and should not be used for diagnostic purposes, explained Jacob Colvin, Owlet co-founder and 29-year-old father of two. Utilizing multiple sensors, the device can grow with the child and has been tested on infants up to 2 years old, he said.

“Every parent knows what it’s like to lay in bed and stress about whether your child is breathing,“ Colvin said. “Hearing my sick child wheezing all night long because of serious (respiratory syncytial virus) was one of the hardest experiences I have ever had, knowing I couldn’t do anything for (my daughter).”

That kind of circumstance was what prompted Colvin and co-founder Kurt Workman — along with three others — to develop the Owlet technology.

Heart rate and oxygen levels are found using Owlet’s proprietary four-sensor pulse oximeter — “the little red light you put on your finger when you go to the doctor,” Colvin said.

The design allows the Owlet monitor to automatically adjust data readings for foot growth, movement and various levels of ambient light, said Zack Bombsta, Owlet's chief engineering officer.

Additional features include rollover alerts, skin temperature and sleep-quality tracking.

The Owlet team is currently going through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration process to add an alarm, along with other features, to the next version of the product, Colvin said. The upgraded version will notify parents of drops in heart rate and oxygen levels, helping to prevent emergencies, he said.

FDA clearance is expected by 2015. The current version will retail for $199, but can be purchased now for $160 on the company website.

The medical version of the vitals monitor now under development will include more advanced features derived from information obtained through data collected from the current version.

“With a large enough data set and with good predictive models, parents could be informed of the probability that their child will develop a condition such as bradycardia or sleep apnea,” said Steven Liddle, BYU data scientist.

These predictive models could very likely lead to a reduction in infant mortality, he added.

“Our mission is to make a difference in the world by creating products that help parents and increase the safety of their kids,” Colvin said.


Twitter: JasenLee1