Graduates from Washington University in St. Louis are developing a “smart pillow.”
What started out as part of a senior project became a business, a sleep optimization system called Chrona. Chrona is a thin memory foam pad embedded with pressure sensors and tiny speakers that slips into a pillowcase. It uses a smartphone to track sleep patterns and plays different frequency sounds to improve the quality of sleep.
Zimin Hang said the initial idea came to him in high school, but Chrona wasn’t developed until his senior year of college.
“The business actually got started at the beginning of senior year of undergraduate when we were able to connect with the engineering department and actually try to create something tangible,” said Hang. “The Ultradia team is composed of nine members total and seven of which have graduated from Wash U.”
Ultradia has been in business for about a year and is getting a patent on the technology. Last week, the company received nearly $100-thousand dollars through a KickStarter campaign to develop and test the ‘smart pillow’ technology.
Hang said after he graduated in 2014, he co-founded Ultradia with fellow Washington University alum Ben Bronsther.
“Then we were really able to really focus on building the business and getting it to the stage where we could obtain funding whether that’s through KickStarter or private channels,” said Hang. “And we did have a prototype, we did have partners in the medical school to help us validate the technology.”
Hang said there are many long term benefits to improving deep sleep.
“If you can synchronize deep sleep and create a deeper state of sleep, then it translates to more restorative sleep and better memory consolidation,” said Hang. “There’s actually studies coming out now showing a connection between losing deep sleep and then developing mental illnesses, you know, five, ten years down the road, illnesses like Alzheimer’s and dementia, and there’s so many different things that start to happen when you start losing out on deep sleep,”
Hang said there aren’t many studies or products that make use of sound during sleep.
“There’s a lot of products that track sleep, track fitness, track all kinds of stuff, we’re going a step beyond that by creating an active system that actively improves your sleep,” said Hang. “We want to add to the existing literature of this specific methodology, acoustic entrainment, to really push forward this field of sleep research because it is currently a relatively new field.”
The Chorna crew is currently testing the product, with goals for its expansion.
“This isn’t just a product, it’s an entire process to really unlock and understand the intricacies of sleep and conveying our findings to the public,” said Zang.