Intelligent baby monitor can promote better sleep for new parents

Nate Ruben and his wife, Sarah, were up multiple times a night to confirm their child was still breathing.


It’s challenging enough to get a newborn baby to sleep through the night. But when you are the parent of a child born prematurely—thus carrying the increased risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome—that challenge grows for sleep-starved parents as well.

Such was the situation faced by Nate Ruben and his wife, Sarah, with their first child who was born four weeks early in 2012. She was up multiple times a night to confirm their child was still breathing, and her overall wellness was suffering.

Their worries led to a new product called the Smartbeat, which can keep a trained eye on infants while they sleep to make sure parents can rest easily.

The Smartbeat is an intelligent baby monitor that can accurately tell when a sleeping child is breathing via a video analyzing algorithm, even if the child is under a blanket or being swaddled. If it senses that the child is not breathing, it sounds an alarm.

The camera has pan, tilt and zoom control that is accessible through the mobile app, and has continuous video stream and two-way audio. The device can measure breathing rate, and based on the cadence of the breathing can even detect if a child is going to be sick.

Promise and processes

Ruben was an electrical engineering student at Utah State University when his first child was born and was inspired by some research he came across.

“I read an article from MIT where they used cameras to measure heart rate. … My inclination was, ‘I’ll make a baby monitor that uses this technique to get heart rate, because that would for sure help parents to sleep better.’”

This line of research eventually became the subject of his Master’s thesis in which he researched the methodology. This greatly improved upon the technology from the original MIT article.

An investor got wind of his research and approached him about investing in the technology. This led Ruben to form his company, Ruben Digital, and to start working toward bringing the product to market in earnest.

The first prototypes of the Smartbeat were overly complicated. Ruben used developer boards to create his own circuit with a camera system to analyze the video. He took this prototype to factories in China and realized how challenging it was going to be to create custom hardware.

“We made a transition from that point,” he says. “We think this camera is very unique and special, but honestly all it is is the software that is running in it.”

His team realized it could source a suitable camera and modify it just enough to allow it to run his breathing algorithms. The team found a reputable factory with a good camera platform and got to work building a new set of prototypes.

The next step was to get testing hours on the new product. Because the algorithm was based on machine learning, the more data that could be collected and analyzed, the smarter the device would become.

For nearly a year, the team deployed prototypes into different homes with many different children. This was great for refining the breathing algorithm but also produced valuable feedback about the product as a whole.

“There are millions of tiny details that go into it. Eighty percent of the product is the breathing monitor, but 90 percent of it is the details surrounding it,” Ruben says.

The company found that users wanted features such as the ability to pan and tilt the camera, as well as having a standard video feed to be able to check in with their own eyes. Users did not seem to care about the resolution of the video or the audio; they just wanted the peace of mind that their child was sleeping peacefully.

IP’s crucial role

Multiple patents were filed for the technology behind the Smartbeat, as there are novel techniques used to extract the heart data from the video stream.

Ruben notes that the intellectual property has been an important part of the corporate strategy, as well as for discussions with investors. However, the real value behind the product is all of the data that have been used to tune the algorithms that drive it.

Smartbeat was soft-launched on the company website at the end of 2018. The first goal was to sell some units and gain consumer enthusiasm, and the first production run sold out in a few months. The product was also exhibited at January’s Consumer Electronics Show, to rave reviews.

The team continues to refine its marketing message and build up inventory. It is also looking to the future, specifically into developing new products to give parents tools to achieve precious peace of mind.