November 04, 2003

Smart Furniture: Beds

Arrived in Ivrea a couple of days ago to visit Molly. Inspired by Elizabeth Goodman and Mariojn Misilim's Sensing Beds paper and Dunne and Raby's Design Noir book, I started thinking of smart beds. Beds seem like a pretty logical platform for incorporating intelligence into furniture. Beds are large, stationary, near electrical outlets and as Goodman and Misilim point out, used every day, pretty much at the same time. They're primarily used for three purposes: sleeping, sex and recuperation from illness.

I decided to brainstorm on the question: "How can beds use information from the environment around them to help with sleeping and health?" [Smart beds as sexual aids will be considered at another time] Here's what I came up with:


There appear to be several different techniques for detecting sleep. All require attachments, but maybe there could be a way to detect sleep without needing to wear a strap or skin sensor. If a bed could detect when its occupant(s) were asleep, it could do any number of things:
  • tell their phones to go directly to voice mail
  • tell their doorbell ringer to spit out a message
  • tell parents that "all is well" with their kids without having to peek in
  • log the times and use that to build the sleeper a profile of their sleep cycle so they could once and for all know how much sleep feels like it's the right amount
  • Etc.
It could also do all of those fancy home automation tricks without requiring the sleeper(s) to remember to hit buttons on their universal remote—the bed would tell the lights when to dim and to tell the coffee maker when to go on. Those things sound gimmicky now primarily because they require awkward home automation installation and configuration. If it was done transparently (if objects had a "do this while I'm asleep" function), it may not feel nearly as forced.

Snoring and sleep apnea

There's a whole industry to tackle these problems that could leverage off of smart beds. A bed with a microphone could tell when snoring became louder than a certain threshhold and either wake the snorer or slowly reposition them to a better breathing position. Sleep apnea could be detected/monitored/logged and could trigger actions using technology that already appears to exit.


Medicine is where the most technology is currently applied to beds (and bed-like devices like operating tables) and is likely to be where smart beds first appear. There are bed wetting sensors, bed exit alarms that trigger when someone has left their bed and patient positioning technology used to in cancer radiotherapy. (Here's an example of an experimental rig that seems like it could actually be fun to ride). Tying such sensors together with shared information could allow their environment to adapt to the person's condition or needs:
  • a crib breathing monitor could detect Suddent Infant Death Syndrome
  • a heartbeat monitor could monitor a cardiac patient's state
  • a breathing sensor could sense an asthmatic's night-time breathing difficulties (asthma often worsens at night)
  • Etc.
[After I wrote that I discovered The Stanford SleepSmart project, which is an attempt at doing just this, but it's unclear whether they've gone anywhere with it or whether they're including communication with other devices as part of the project.]

Room flexibility

How can smart beds make bedrooms into more flexible spaces? Bedrooms are of fairly limited use and although McMansions in the US have more floor space than people know how to use, there are still places where population density is a such that space is at a premium.

The key to all these ideas is that the bed mostly serves as the sensor and communicates data to other devices—ideally wirelessly—rather than trying to do everything.

Other Smart Bed Links

Posted by mikek at November 4, 2003 08:56 AM | TrackBack

For the first section, why bother "detecting sleep" at all? Almost all of the time, if I'm simply *in* bed I'd want those home-automation functions to run; so my weight on the mattress should be enough.

It wouldn't be asking to much to require me to specifically indicate "even though I'm in bed, don't do all that stuff" (because I'm maybe just reading or napping for fifteen minutes or whatever). The whole detecting sleep thing seems a little creepy.

So, when's the sex entry?

Posted by: andrew at November 4, 2003 09:57 AM

"In bed, lights off" is probably a good enough approximation for most applications. Perhaps via a solar cell in the right place?

Perhaps this is too simple, but the alarm clock could automatically shut off when you get up.

Also consider connecting to safety systems. Security systems can turn up sensitivity when nobody's awake.

Posted by: Brian Slesinsky at November 4, 2003 10:20 PM

there was a new yorker profile a few years back of an inventor who, among other things, had invented a bed with a groove in it so you could sleep with your arms around someone without your arm falling asleep under your partner's body. perhaps this is more of a 'clever bed' than a 'smart bed', but intriguing nonetheless.

Posted by: judith at November 15, 2003 11:54 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?