Connected medical devices often focus on collecting and analyzing biometric data so that patients and healthcare providers can have a clearer real-time view into the diagnosis and treatment of a condition. Chilean startup Babybe comes at smart medicine from a different direction: Its first product, a mattress that connects premature babies with their mothers, is described as an “emotional prosthesis”.
Premature births account for about 1 in 8 infants born in the U.S., and those babies often have to spend weeks in an incubator with only infrequent contact with their parents. Skin-to-skin contact or “kangaroo care”, in which the baby is held directly against the chest, can help parents bond with their infant and appears to have health benefits that shorten the child’s stay in the neonatal care unit—but this kind of contact is often only allowed for just a short time each day.
“I saw this situation that actually got my attention,” Babybe co-founder Camilo Anabalón says in a video from Intel’s Make It Wearable Challenge, for which his company was a finalist. “It was this premature baby inside of this big machine full of light, beeps and different mechanical signals. But the parents were outside in the waiting room, in agony to just spend a moment with their baby.”
Babybe’s mattress offers a way to simulate the kangaroo care experience while the child remains in an incubator. The pad is connected to a sensor unit that a parent can hold to their torso, where it detects their heartbeat and breathing patterns. Inside the mattress, which is made of a high-tech warming gel, pneumatic pumps inflate and deflate to recreate the physical sensations of a mother’s beating heart and the rise and fall of her chest. And of course, it’s all controlled by Intel’s Edison development board.
While clinical trials will be needed to prove Babybe’s effectiveness, early test show that the device produces some of the same stress-relieving effects as skin-to-skin contact—improved blood pressure, reduced heart rate and calmer behavior.