The question was, how might we take all of this fantastic technology and create a compact, user-friendly device appropriate for the bedroom environment? And, how can we do this in just three weeks? The timing was right, the runway was short. They needed a viable, consumer-ready product - fast.
As a start-up with limited in-house resources, Koko Labs approached our team at Ronin Product Development Labs with a breadboard prototype and some aggressive shipping deadlines to meet.
Ronin had worked with Koko Labs in the past to develop an in-home health and safety monitor for older adults. Their collaboration with us was such a success that they invited us back to collaborate on this latest product.
In quick-turn projects where clear and decisive communication is paramount, it pays to consider embedding an engineer into the client team. We have a track record of successfully helping client teams in this manner. It cuts time, cost, and the risk of communications being lost in translation.
The Koko Labs team had already built partially functional prototypes out of PC panels, off-the-shelf parts, and a few key proprietary components to prove radar technology can accurately and safely detect sleep.
Koko Labs saw two key market opportunities for Full Sleep: to help people with long term sleep issues sleep better, and to replace hard to access sleep lab services and training courses that exist in retail spaces across North America.
Unfortunately, it lacked good industrial design, usability considerations, and a form factor that would fit on a typical bedroom nightstand. With this unrefined design, market adoption would be challenging, not to mention it took an entire week to build a single unit.
Koko Labs needed a rapid solution that was visually appropriate, functionally effective, and more easily manufacturable. It had already planned for an upcoming 200-person sleep trial, a vital next step for it to take this product to market.
To get started, Ronin leadership quickly set up a kick-off meeting with Koko Labs. After learning more about their needs, we assembled a team, set up an aggressive timeline, and crafted a detailed work plan.
Because rapid manufacturing and product development was outside of the scope of Koko Labs’ expertise, they were unsure what decisions needed to be made, nor when. Our team determined they could provide them with several refined CAD files ready for manufacturing. To get this done in three weeks, each organization committed to being unusually responsive and decisive. According to Hugo Ortiz (Studio Principal, Ronin Product Development Labs) “We set an aggressive timeline and we very quickly came up with this solution.”
Because time was of the essence, all processes and logistics were framed around time and cost. This gave Koko Labs a clear, no-surprises understanding of how this piece of the product development process fit into their overall budget.
For fast communication and decision-making, we set up an inter-organizational Slack channel to enable rapid question-and-answer feedback loop. Many members of the Koko Labs team were working remotely on both East and West coasts; Slack was a great tool to maintain open communication lines and to resolve issues on the fly. We also joined Koko Labs’ existing Asana platform.
For fast learning and work flow integration, we embedded three mechanical engineers and a program manager into the Koko Labs team. In addition, a mechanical engineering lead - Hugo Ortiz - was appointed to handle program management and serve as the main liaison for Koko Labs’ CEO. Ortiz helped establish priorities, asking, “what are your must-haves, and what are your nice-to-haves?”
As a combined group, we went through many iterations of prototype refinement. We 3D printed models to assess how they looked (visually and size-wise), and felt in-hand. Then, we adjusted CAD files and 3D printed again.
Throughout this iterative process, Ortiz gathered the working group and key stakeholders on both sides once a week to discuss our progress and roadblocks in-person at Koko Labs. We built several major prototypes to de-risk the design: one for thermal testing, one for fit check, one for design for assembly check, and one to test the buttons and light pipes. This was a huge contributor to the success of the build.
Ortiz and our team had been doing this long enough to know that one must plan for the unplanned. We anticipated that there would be challenges, and we were prepared to solve them.
As the prototypes shrank in size, this problem grew. Koko Labs had a strict design requirement that the Full Sleep device would not have a fan. Thus, we needed to find a way to passively dissipate a substantial amount of heat generated by the radar activity and AI computation. We knew we absolutely had to maintain a relatively low operating temperature for the components to keep working optimally and for consumer safety.
Our engineers quickly determined that passive convection-based air flow through the device was the best solution. To prove it, we performed several simulations and heat measurement tests. For each simulation we played with adding more holes in the device, using differently sized heat sinks, moving buttons, and changing the physical volume of the device as a whole.
Soon, we got to the point where we needed to decide between two very different industrial design directions. As a group, we assessed each design based on cost, manufacturability, usability, and desirability. A single design direction was decided upon as a group, then we began sourcing vendors.
The Ronin team placed an order for 200 units and supervised the manufacturing of the first 20 units. We at Ronin Product Development Labs typically advocate strongly to continue providing ongoing support throughout the manufacturing process. Why? Because this type of quick-turn responsiveness helps maintain design intent and tackle any unforeseen problems that arise. However, in this case Koko Labs was eager to take over the remainder of the prototype manufacturing process, with the understanding that they would reach out to us if urgently needed. And while we hoped for the best, an urgent problem did occur. The supplier fell short of what it promised to deliver.
After Ortiz’s phone call, the supplier got back in touch with the Koko Labs team and fulfilled the order as originally requested.
After three intensive weeks, we hit the finish line. The CAD was complete, and with the correct housing our team assembled 200 refined prototype units - all in time for the planned sleep study! At time of publication, Koko Labs is executing the sleep study to further test refine the Full Sleep program’s device and app. Soon after, it plans to manufacture and launch to consumers across North America.
At Ronin, we were thrilled to help take Koko Labs through the first stages of product development, and we’re prepared to help them once again - when they’re ready. This is because we are committed to investing in long-term relationships.
We’ve continued to support Koko Labs as they’ve gone through this build, helping them with small things like changing thermal pads and changing screws that have come loose during shipping. We’ll work with them to optimize design for manufacturing, then support them during full manufacturing of the Full Sleep device. Koko Labs doesn’t have an internal mechanical engineer and doesn’t plan to hire; we remain their go-to firm for mechanical engineering expertise.
Looking back, we asked the group to reflect upon what made this partnership work so well. Everyone was in agreement: flexibility, close collaboration, and a shared commitment to the vision.
Looking even further into the future, Koko Labs intends for the Full Sleep program to be the first of many product offerings around radar technology, their core competency. According to Eckert, “sleep is our first vertical. We’re going to go beyond curing insomnia. We have proven in a lab that we can detect sleep apnea. We want to be a sleep lab in your home!”
Based in Palo Alto, California, Koko Labs’ development team includes an incredible lineup of diverse, multi-disciplinary experts across sleep medicine, clinical psychology, consumer electronics, artificial intelligence, radar, aging, and healthcare. Learn more at www.fullsleep.com
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