Official Blog of Center10 Consulting

How to save your Preemie: Wrap her in a Robot

on Thursday, September 25, 2014
A version of this post was published in Quartz Magazine on September 25th, 2014. Click here to see the article.

To listen to Hollywood's Sci-Fi machine, AI (artificial intelligence) is going to change the world. Unfortunately, it's a bleak tale - the earth is either an all-out dystopia or a fragile fantasy of happiness that is shattered when the heroic protagonist realizes that after all, it's rotten to the core. Whether you're a battery suspended in gel to feed the machines in the Matrix, or a rebel fighting a last ditch battle against the T800 Terminators, it's not looking very good for you, feeble human!!
This week's NYT has an article by Jayson Greene reviewing just this generally dismal vision. He references Arthur C. Clark's essay, "The Hazards of Prophecy" where he posits that it's the failure of imagination and the failure of nerve that results in such fatalistic views. We fail to envision a hopeful future, because we imagine the worst. Beware the TerminatorHalNS-54s and Preston.... Of course, they're all about power and control. The assumption seems to be that AI will drive to our baser instincts. 

Star Wars had a different take, though. Apart from C3PO and R2D2, there's Chroon-Tan B.

In 2005, Chroon-Tan B made an appearance in the public consciousness as the midwife robot in Star Wars III; Revenge of the Sith. She, because she definitely sounded like a she, crooned softly as she gently cradled the newborn twins Leia and Luke, as their mother was unceremoniously and traumatically despatched to film heaven. An odd little gentle interlude before the gory scenes that followed as dad Anakin was despatched limb by limb to his Darth future....

Imagine my surprise earlier this week when I found BabyBe on AngelList. Chroon-Tan was here, and maybe was better for not having taken the momma out of the picture. Instead, it was clearly a device created by engineers who understood the role of mothers in the lives of preemie children.

Take a look here for what BabyBe does - their tag line is Soft Robotics for neonatal healthcare.

It's a brilliant use of data, sensors, and new materials that make the preemie child and mother's experience so much more fulfilling, and I suspect ensures better outcomes for the life of the child.

It consists of three modules:

  • A Bionic mattress whose skin-like gel surface takes on the temperature and gentle shapes of the mother
  • The mother "turtle" that rests on the mother and captures her breathing rhythms and heartbeats
  • A control module that makes the connection between Turtle and mattress
Here is a robot that has the wellbeing of mother and child squarely in mind and design. Rather than imagining the worst like Hollywood does, BabyBe's creators imagined the best - they have FDA approval for their materials, they work not only with maternal data, but maternal feelings, they prioritize not only the child's vitals but the her emotional well-being. Here's a huge virtual hug from a mom to you, team!!

And what is my take aways about innovation from all this?
  • There are opportunities all around you. Hospital care has prioritized diagnostics and surgical innovation, but this is all about patient engagement and emotional wellbeing.
  • Nothing should be considered sacred. The mother-preemie space has evolved, but mostly in mechanical ways that work towards infection prevention with walls and transparent dividers and carefully monitored, limited skin-to-skin interactions. By asking some key questions - what if the mother could be channeled, for example - BabyBe has established a whole new paradigm.
  • Stay open to the relevance of innovations out there. The BabyBe is a wonderful amalgam of cutting edge materials (the gel), mechanics (sensors), robotics (variable movements in the supple mattress) and psychology (the emotional interplay of shape and human emotion.)
  • Be bold. I can't imagine that positing a whole new interface between mother and child was an easy argument to make...but they've done it, and crafted a robotic solution that is customer centric as well as deeply advanced. All that's good about AI
As all the great information of generation 1 of BabyBe's comes together, I could see a version 2 or version 20 that is an amazing version of Chroon-Tan that can preserve and save lives in whole new places. Imagine opening up your Fedex box, popping out a mini Chroon-BabyBe, and having your baby in your remote Indian village. Dare to dream.


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