Each week, Paul Wood chats with a high tech difference-maker. This week, meet ELI LAZAR, an inventor who graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois and lives in Champaign. He invented Snooz, an inexpensive device for problem sleepers. It generates white noise for eight hours a night, for about $2 a year.
How did you get started?
I used to sleep with a fan running every night. It was pointed at the wall, of course, because I just wanted the sound and not the cold air blowing on me. I found it so necessary for my sleep each night that I packed fans in my suitcase when I traveled. Over time, I realized that a lot of people I knew had the same habit as me.
Who else is on your team?
My partner is Matt Snyder. He is from Nevada and graduated with a degree in business/marketing from University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
What's new about your design?
In college, I studied mechanical engineering, and did a lot of wind-tunnel experiments and learned a lot about airflow and acoustics. After graduation, one night I was talking to a friend of mine about how crazy it was that so many people point fans at the wall because they want the sound for sleeping without the airflow. However, fans are designed in the opposite way — maximum airflow without sound. When we looked into it more we found a University of Michigan study that suggested almost 50 percent of their students used sound to help them sleep at night, and then multiple studies that showed sleeping with sound was nearly as effective as prescription sleeping medications for adults and extremely helpful for infant sleep. For infants, many scientists and doctors point to the fact that it is mimicking the sounds in the womb. With this said, we combined my engineering background with my partner's amazing marketing background to form Snooz. I started building prototypes with CPU fans and DVD spindle cases and then eventually starting designing units in CAD and using 3-D printing.
And did you have any trouble coming up with this?
I once got to the point where I was so frustrated with working on it that I packed everything in my car and was driving it to my parents' house to drop off so I wouldn't be tempted to work on it anymore. On the way, I stopped and met my future business partner, who didn't know what I was doing, and on that day he was so excited about Snooz that I brought it all back and kept working on it.
How is this product different?
On the surface, I know a white noise machine sounds simple to design, but at the detail level you are talking about designing a system to capture all the high-energy/high-speed air coming off the fan blade and convert it into sound energy in a distance of about 5 millimeters — that took some time. As a result, while a comparable fan might cost $50 a year to generate sound for eight hours a night, Snooz does it for without blowing cold air around your room.
What can Snooz do?
Snooz is an acoustic white-noise machine that helps you fall asleep and stay asleep. Using a proprietary fan in an acoustically-optimized enclosure, Snooz produces peaceful white noise to help the world fade away so you can sleep. It is basically like a fan spinning in a miniature opera hall, designed to make peaceful tones resonate.
What's the benefit?
In a 2008 Consumer Reports analysis, 2,021 survey respondents found sound machines to be more helpful than over-the-counter drugs or supplements like Tylenol PM and Unisom (and almost as effective as prescription medication like Ambien and Lunesta). White noise works. As a room gets quieter, your hearing becomes more acute. One of the key reasons white noise is effective is that it reduces the delta between your baseline sound and containment noise so many disturbances aren't heard and the others sound much quieter (i.e., the "startle factor" is reduced). Snooz literally smooths the bumps in the night.
And for children?
A randomized trial of newborn babies, researchers found that babies were 25-80 percent more likely to fall asleep when exposed to white noise. However, a 2014 study by the University of Toronto looked at 14 popular infant sleep machines and found that all of them were capable of producing sound levels that exceeded the limits set for hospital nurseries. To address this, Snooz is the first white-noise machine to be accompanied by a nursery calibration feature to make sure the sound level is safe for your little one. Using our app, simply place your phone in the bed or crib to measure the sound level your child will hear and adjust Snooz until the volume is safe.
How is it different from using a fan or an app?
Different from a fan: Designed with airflow simulations run on supercomputers, Snooz uses a proprietary fan to generate live, natural white noise that is adjustable and doesn't disturb the surrounding air (no air output). No more pointing a fan at the wall in the winter. Snooz also uses an ultra-efficient brushless DC motor so it uses the energy equivalent of a 12-watt LED bulb. That means the annual power consumption of Snooz is 98% less than that of a box fan. It is also much smaller and travel-friendly.
Different from an app: Snooz uses a real fan so you don't have to worry if it's going to sound real, because it is real. No looping tracks or low-quality speakers. Just the soothing sound of moving air.
Do you have any venture capital? How do you make money?
We ran a successful Kickstarter campaign and we also have angel investors.
What's in the future?
Snooz is available at getsnooz.com and on amazon. Other products are in the works. Continue to check out our website for upcoming information.
TECH TIDBITS ... from ELI LAZAR
Do you have an entrepreneur who is a hero? God is my entrepreneur hero. If you look at the human body or anything in the universe, it makes all other products or machines that have been designed look like tinker toys. In a sense, He's the greatest engineer who ever existed, and the greatest entrepreneur, because He has 100 percent adoption of everything he created.
What book are you reading right now? "Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation" by St. Thomas More