IoT Health: Smart Socks – hope, fear and inspiration

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IoT Health: Smart Socks – hope, fear and inspiration

IoT Health can save the lives of newborn babies. That’s what two bright young engineers in Nevada set out to do with a little help from their friends at Avnet.

by Mark McCoy

In 2012, Kurt Workman was a full- time chemical engineering major at Brigham Young University (BYU). Kurt’s aunt had just had premature twins so he and his wife were lending a helping hand whenever they could. They saw firsthand the constant worry Kurt’s aunt shouldered.

They wanted to start a family of their own soon but Kurt knew that with his wife’s congenital heart defects they could face similar challenges and plenty of sleepless nights of their own. Around the same time though a friend who worked as a nurse at the University of Utah Medical Center introduced Kurt to a clinically proven technology used by hospitals called pulse oximetry.

A pulse oximeter is a clip-on device hospitals put on a patient’s finger which uses wavelengths of light to measure heart rate and blood oxygen levels. That was all the inspiration he needed to create Owlet and its product the Smart Sock.

Making a real difference in the world is totally worth it

Zack Bomsta

Iot Health - Zack Bomsta

The sock is a health monitor for newborns to wear at home, designed to notify parents if heart rate and oxygen levels fall outside preset zones, helping to give peace of mind to anxious parents.

A coincidental meeting with fellow BYU student and electrical engineering major Zack Bomsta, himself a new dad, helped determine the trajectory these budding entrepreneurs would take. Together, Kurt and Zack with their other co-founders, developed their idea, competing in and winning several competitions at BYU. With more recognition came more attention, including that of Dianne Suggett, an Avnet account manager. This led to Avnet helping to guide them and their idea to market.

Barriers that pop up overnight

The Smart Sock first went on sale in October 2015 on Owlet’s website. Today, it’s available on the shelves of Buybuy Baby, with plans to be in other big-box retailers and additional countries later this year. It’s also been shown to reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality in longitudinal observations published in the peer-reviewed medical journal, Global Pediatric Health. Trent Foster, an Avnet field application engineer (FAE), worked with Owlet during its early days in the product design phase. “Their goal was to make a difference in the world,” he recalls. “That’s what they wanted to do. Seeing them do that (…) that’s the most rewarding part. A mentor once told me, ‘if you knew what it was going to take at the start, you wouldn’t start.’ But the reality is, making a real difference in the world is totally worth it.”

There was a lot of stress at the time, but Avnet really came to bat for us

Kurt Workman

IoT Health - Kurt Workman

One major barrier cropped up a year into development. The Owlet team had assumed that the sock’s sensor module on the baby’s foot could send data straight to a smartphone through Bluetooth. Further testing uncovered range constraints and communication reliability issues. With delivery dates promised to early backers, the team realized they needed to develop a dedicated base station quickly – as a go-between to communicate with both the sensor and the smartphone. “Up until that point, we were planning on using the phone and all the conveniences that come with piggybacking off a smart device. So, late in the game, we had to figure out how to make this Wi-Fi base station work. There was a lot of stress at that time, but this is where Avnet really came to bat for us,” Zack remembers with relief.

IoT Health: Smart Socks

As the team was frantically trying to identify the right Wi-Fi chip set, Avnet introduced them to another startup that happened to be developing just the module Owlet needed. “At that time, we didn’t have any cash to throw at buying inventory and Avnet was able to step up and help us get the inventory and work out the logistics, both with the chipset developers and their contract manufacturer, so we could get those parts delivered to us. Avnet was the glue that held all of it together,” Zack says.

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