The Zeo headband contains some of the product's magic. Unlike other technology that measures body temperature and activity (called "actigraphy") during sleep, Zeo claims to be the first commercial product that can actually measure actual brainwaves. It uses a combination of special sensor technology, fabric and an algorithm that Zeo has trained using the type of equipment you'd normally see in a sleep lab (Polysomniograph, or PSG.)
The new headband, which looks very much like the old one, includes a new accelerometer, which is intended to provide an even more accurate read on sleep activity--for example, telling its users whether they've been sleeping on their side or their back.
[ Want to make your Android phone or tablet into a smarter team player? See 10 Great Android Apps For Collaboration. ]
Using the "bedside" version of the product, the sensors communicate wirelessly with the alarm clock. All of the data is stored in a special memory card that you eject, and then slide into a USB adapter; plug the adapter into your computer, and sync the data with the your MyZeo personal data set on the Web. Social features let you share (er, brag about) your sleep score.
In Zeo Mobile, however, there's no bedside unit. Your phone replaces it. That means less manual work getting your data, because all through the night, in five-minute intervals, the headband sends the data to the mobile phone via BlueTooth. And because there's a free app for the phone, it means instant access to your sleep data in a very convenient package. For road warriors, it means it's finally convenient to take Zeo with you (Esther Dyson told me she packs her entire unit . . . now she can leave it, and toss in an extra pair of shoes.)
Most of the Zeo magic is in the software anyway. In fact, Ben Rubin, the company's co-founder and CTO, said that Zeo wants to specialize more in sleep management and services, rather than the hardware. The mobile device is the perfect receiver for the data being collected by the headband, and a powerful enough platform to interpret, present, and manage sleep data.
The Android version of the application that Rubin showed me, still in its early stages, has most of everything Zeo offers in its online application. It shows you how much time you spent in each of the stages of sleep, provides a sleep score, and shows comparisons.
For now, however, it doesn't let you keep a sleep journal. Rubin said this will come quickly, and I think it's a necessity.
In my own use of the previous product, I found that keeping a journal about what I ate and drank, and how often I exercised, and when, along with how well I felt that I had slept, and how tired I got at various points in the day--all of this began to provide an overall pattern of the factors I needed to modify (such as limiting alcohol and doing exercise too close to bedtime).
The Zeo sleep coach offers a host of recommendations, and includes sound therapy and other relaxation techniques. Rubin said that users really want to be able to make adjustments in habits and sleeping patterns based on recommendations that happen "just in time." A perfect mobile opportunity.
Ultimately, Rubin's quest is to start creating an ecosystem of apps and services around the Zeo technology. For example, for an extra fee you might get a Jet Lag app--something that coaches you through a troublesome series of time-zone changes; it turns out there are plenty of things you can do to prepare your body for such a journey, including slowly altering your bed time, and learning to expose yourself to sources of light to wake up some of your natural body functions.
The ability to make in-app purchases would allow Zeo to offer you those light sources, sleep masks, and other supplements that can help provide a healthier sleep.
Rubin pointed out that other health-oriented programs--like those designed to help lose weight--come not just with simple recipes or meals, but also with coaching or training, for a fee. He believes the same is possible with sleep. Additionally, Rubin said that Zeo is now being integrated with other health-oriented apps. Zeo has worked with RunKeeper, Digifit, and DailyBurn, among others. Zeo has an API that allows its data to be used by these other health-oriented services--pulling data out, or sharing data.
Zeo Mobile sends sleep data to your phone throughout the night in five minutes over BlueTooth. This, of course, will drain your phone's battery pretty fast, so best to keep it plugged in during the night. Zeo Mobile will be available at a variety of retailers for $99, in October.
Rubin also showed me some prototypes of snap-on sensor modules that stick to your forehead, replacing the use of the sometimes awkward (and often elusive) headband (which can sometimes fall off at night). In the future, there will be sensors in your mattress, or even on your smart phone, Rubin said.
Shortly after launch, the mobile app will assume the social sharing functionality of the Zeo online service. I'd like to be able to warn co-workers automatically when I've had a bad night of sleep. Or perhaps a nice little catnap app would be helpful…but I'll let these smart guys do product development. They've already worked with experts in lucid dream management.
The possibilities are eye opening.
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Fritz Nelson is the editorial director for InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.
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