They have been on the news many times before, recently, they won the Swedish Robotdalen Innovation Award 2017 and look to launch their sleeping robot on Kickstarter in the upcoming weeks. “After two and a half years of development and testing, we are currently looking at going to market”, said Julian Jagtenberg (22), one of Somnox’s four original inventors.
Julian, how would you describe Somnox in a single tweet?
“Somnox is the world’s first sleeping robot.”
What is your background? What were you doing before this?
“Ever since I was a child I have wanted to work with robots. I always dreamed of becoming a gyro gearloose type of character, which is something that is still signified by the R2-D2 poster in my room. I majored in Industrial Design at the TU Delft. Industrial Design works in close association with the Robotics Institute, where I spent a year doing a minor. It’s an experimental lab, that brings together three study associations, with each one of them approaching robotics in a completely different way.”
How and when did you come up with the idea for Somnox ?
“Somnox is mostly just a student project I worked on with three others, that ended up gaining a lot of traction. Currently the team counts twelve members, each one as intrinsically motivated as the next.”
Where does your personal fascination with sleep come from? What was your motivation?
“Two years ago, I learnt the effects of insomnia first hand. It starts off as a general weariness, but can ultimately lead to depression. Experiencing that is nerve-wrecking. I could not fathom that there was but a single solution out there, in the form of sleeping pills and made it my mission to develop an insomnia solution using robotics instead.”
What functionalities does Somnox have?
“Somnox helps users with falling asleep and waking up more energized, using technology that soothes both the mind and the body. To provide such a result, we work with breathing and audio exclusively. Somnox breathes in a way that soothes you personally as well as providing personalized audio, like a story or heartbeat. During the day, one can personalize Somnox using the accompanying mobile app.”
Why is Somnox personalized for use during the day?
“We do not want to be just another addition to the sleeping solution regimen. There is an enormous number of smartwatches, headphones, wake up-lights and apps out there. Often, they are just able to diagnose the sleeping problem that you were already aware of. The effect is the opposite of calming the user. What we are doing, is offering a solution that works in the right place; in bed. Somnox is controlled very intuitively by tapping it on the back, as predetermined in the mobile app. It can be relaxing to know that the rest will work itself out.”
What does Somnox look like?
“On first impression, it looks like a pillow, but honestly it is more like a plushy with some additional non-invasive functionalities. All you need to do for it to work is hold it closely. The feeling of matched breathing is based on Buddhist techniques, dating back thousands of years.”
What differentiates Somnox? Do you have any competition?
“There is no similar product to Somnox on the market right now. One could speculate that meditation is, in a way, our only competition. However, actual breathing exercises that have proven to be effective, tend to be difficult to perform. Somnox stimulates a realistic human breathing pattern, even matching the right amplitude and ratio.”
How long did it take to develop the product?
“We started around two and a half years ago and have been through quite many breathing studies, prototypes, user test and product iterations. The development of the perfect combination of form and functionality is continuous. However, with our Kickstarter campaign, the current focus is more so on tackling the market.”
What is your plan for Kickstarter?
“On November 14th, at 11:00 am, we are taking Somnox live on Kickstarter. During the launch, early birds will have access to discounts on one of the two thousand available prototypes. We see the Kickstarter campaign as a good validator of the demand for our product in the mainstream market. It also helps by increasing commitment. I am very curious to find out whether we will be able to reach our backing goal in time and thus be able to start producing.”
Which partners are you working with?
“Auping supports us in our production, which is Local and European. Auping know, that sleeping is more than just owning a good bed. Our brand fits the high-end and circular image of Auping well. Aside from that, we are also linked to incubator Yes!Delft and have looked to connect with the European consortium EIT HEalth, for the clinical evaluation of Somnox. This is meant to prove that our product has an effect different from that of a placebo. Our current proof, consists of only user research.”
How would you describe the market for sleep improvement products?
“It is a large market, which is also enlarged by the 24-hour economy. The consensus is that in 2019 this will be a 75 billion euro market. Sleep problems are getting worse: one in five people in the Netherlands sleep less than 7 hours per night. Another astonishing statistic: 12% of Dutch people spend over 800 euro’s a year on good sleep.”
What will be the price of the robot?
“Based on our negotiations with producing partners we are currently looking at a price of 500 euros. Our income comes exclusively from b2c-sales. We have numerous ideas for scaling, one of which, is to develop for different target groups separately. One could think of for instance: health institutions, hotel chains or burned out employees.”
What is your plan to stir up the market?
“Based on one metric that matters, that we guaranteed one million sleeping hours before 2015, using Somnox. We are looking to track the total number of sleeping hours our product has brought its users. Such a goal will strengthen our presence in the market.”
Can you explain why Somnox would be interesting for marketers out there? What opportunities does it come with?
“Because Somnox is a completely new product and therefore not very comparable to anything else. It does not build on previous successes. Sleeping with a robot is a brand-new solution. Also, we will encounter the general resistance that robots face in the market: loss of other jobs and trust complications.”
Upcoming Friday, you are in the finals of the Accenture Innovation Awards, how is that affecting you? What are your expectations?
“We are super excited to be part of the AIA. We already managed to build up some useful connections and convinced the jury to try Somnox on the spot. The feedback that the jury gave us so far is very valuable, and varied from ‘when can I buy it?’ to hesitations about the costs. However soft and cuddly Somnox may look: it remains a robot with advanced technical specs on the inside.”