Let’s begin with a bit of background on how I got here and where I want to go with this blog. I’ve been an inventor all of my life. Inventing for me comes out of a dissatisfaction with my environment. Now more than ever there are deeply rooted problem with how we approach the world and communicate with one another. Inventing new things is the best way to address the problems of the world because inventions can scale. However, the tools made by technology giants are designed more for making money than for solving important social problems. I believe that we can resolve the world’s problems through beautiful technological inventions. I know this sounds idealistic, so let me get into some of the concrete ways that I want to make a positive impact on the world.
What if you could improve one-third of people’s lives? That question has been my motive for studying sleep for the past 10 years. I first approached the problem of unsatisfactory sleep by developing an app called the Proactive Sleep Alarm Clock (since discontinued) that figured out the best time to wake up and fall asleep. It also helped people troubleshoot the sleep habits that impacted the quality of their sleep. Despite our best efforts, this apps didn’t quite work. For one, it’s difficult to evaluate your own sleep, especially ify you’re sleep deprived. For another, it can get frustrating to log details about your sleep each morning on an app. The faults of the Proactive Sleep Alarm Clock led me to team up with my neurologist business partner Dr. Marc Therrien to develop and empirically validate a simple game called sleep-2-Peak. The game is sensitive to the components of sleep. But my app, and even all the Fitbits, MyBasis, and Zeo-like devices on the market, only tracks sleep. None of these tools actually impact sleep. My goal is to impact sleep so that 7 hours feels like 8. So when Dr. Dmitry Gerashchenko contacted me back in 2013 about a recent scientific finding that certain sounds can deepen sleep, I jumped on it. Shortly after, there was an a-ha moment and I developed some intellectual property on a sound-based system. We formed the company Mobile Sleep Technologies, and we won a National Science Foundation grant to test the premise behind the idea. This grant is ongoing, so there is a lot more to come about sleep and this project that I’m working on!
What if you could make people more generous consumers? There is a ton of technology based on making purchases faster and easier, but there is little technological emphasis on changing how and why people make purchases. After winning the FAA design competition by collaborating with my colleagues at George Mason University, we developed an app called Fleet. As featured on the Today Show, the app makes air travel less stressful by taking away uncertainties such as plane delays and security lines by using crowdsourcing – similar to how an app like Waze works. The trick is that when things inevitably go wrong during your air travel experience, we enable friends and family to send the traveler a gift, like a Starbucks drink or meal at a restaurant in their gate, to make their situation a bit better. I’m intrigued by this idea of thinking of the consumer not just as a selfish individual walking around stores, but also as loved ones who care about the selfish individual walking around in stores. Air travel provides a unique environment where bad situations can be easily detected and loved ones are interested in the traveler’s status. But I think there can be a more general cultural change where we are more in touch with one another’s needs and help each other out when we can.
I’ll start the blogging by disseminating everything I know about sleep and then move onto discussing some of the current challenges with running these startups. Note that while I have a PhD in cognitive psychology, I’m not an M.D. So take that into account when I am providing sleep suggestions and advice.
Shoot me an email if you have any feedback for me on my projects!