'Smart sock' could monitor baby's vital signs at home

All parents want the peace of mind that their children are safe and breathing well. To that end, Owlet Baby Care (Salt Lake City, UT) has created the world's first baby "smart sock" that transmits a baby's heart rate, oxygen levels, skin temperature, sleep quality, and sleep position via Bluetooth to a parent's smartphone or computer with Internet access. Called the Owlet Vitals Monitor, it uses pulse oximetry, a technique that measures blood oxygen saturation and heart rate noninvasively using a visible (red) and infrared (IR) light combo. Better still, the company's pulse oximeter technology uses low-cost photonic components to give it a price tag less than $200—while hospital pulse oximeters can cost parents around $1,000.

Right now, there is nothing on the consumer market for parents that can show their child's heart rate and oxygen levels. So Kurt Workman, Owlet Baby Care's founder and CEO, had the idea to create a low-cost monitor when caring for his twin cousins who were born prematurely. He also had a cousin pass away from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), so the worry of whether or not an infant was getting enough oxygen hit close to home for him.

The company's proprietary four-sensor pulse oximeter used in the monitor employs 640 nm (red) and 940 nm (IR) surface-mount LEDs and two silicon p-i-n photodiodes, Owlet chief marketing officer Jordan Monroe told BioOptics World. Having four sensors allows for nine different reading combinations while hospital pulse oximeters only allow for one, explains Zack Bombsta, chief engineering officer. The company's design automatically adjusts data read for foot growth, movement, and various levels of ambient light, he adds, so it will continue to work as long as it fits the child's foot. (It has been beta-tested on infants up to two years old.)

The monitor will be available for purchase in fall 2013 in select countries. The company is currently working to add an alarm, along with other features (such as the possibility of connecting it to a baby monitor), to the next version of the product, and expects to obtain FDA approval by 2015. For more information, please visit www.owletcare.com.

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