Last spring, a Kickstarter project raised more than $2.4 million by promising a gadget that not only tracks how well you slept, but also the environmental condition of the room you slept in. On Tuesday, Sense, the sleep tracker from Hello, will go on sale to the general public and will start shipping to Kickstarter backers.
For $129, Sense comes with two different pieces of hardware. One piece is a glowing orb, a little smaller than a baseball, with a design reminiscent of the design of Beijing’s famous “bird’s nest” National Stadium. It sits on your bedside table and has a whole host of sensors for measuring ambient light, temperature, humidity and air quality.
Along with the bird’s nest Sense, you also get a little button, called the Sleep Pill, which clips onto your pillow and, like other accelerometer-based sleep trackers, measures how deeply you’re sleeping. One advantage to the separate Sleep Pill is that users don’t have to put on a tracker or turn it on before hitting the hay. Another advantage is that two people who that sleeps together can each have a Sleep Pill on their pillow, collecting independent sleep data that syncs with a single Sense.
Sense is the first product from San Francisco-based startup Hello. Its founder, James Proud, was one of the first Thiel Fellows in 2011 to skip college and start building companies. Proud told me Hello’s Potrero Hill offices now house over 30 employees. The company has quietly raised over $10.5 million from backers to date.
“When it comes to wearables, sleep is the [metric] everyone’s most fascinated about. But everyone was doing it in such a poor way,” Proud said. “The fact that they’re making you wear something, that’s wrong. The fact that it looks clinical, that’s wrong.”
While nearly every major fitness tracker, including Fitbit and Jawbone, does sleep tracking through an accelerometer, there haven’t been that many connected products aimed at quantifying the room the sleep takes place in. Withings launched a product, called the Aura, with a focus on tracking the bedroom environment last year, but eventually its CEO had to admit it brought the product to market too early.
The idea is that environmental data measured by the Sense could provide indicators that are correlated with whether you got a good night’s sleep or not. For instance, if your bedroom is sometimes noisy, that might be linked to nights where you toss and turn. Like the Aura, Sense will use an algorithm that improves its sleep recommendations as you log more sleep cycles.
But just because Sense is a product that promises to get better as you feed it more data doesn’t mean it’s “faithware.” The hardware and the apps promise to be useful out of the box. For instance, Sense will glow green if the sleeping conditions in your bedroom are optimal, yellow if something’s not right, and orange if you need to adjust something — like the temperature or noise level. Sense also has free iOS and Android apps that collect your sleep data and present it in an attractive timeline as well as provide a simple “sleep score” out of 100 points.
“I wanted to design a product that didn’t feel like a piece of technology,” Proud said.