Toolmaker Talk: Rich Rifredi (BAM Labs)

November 30, 2011

This is the fourth post in the “Toolmaker Talks” series. The QS blog features many stories by those conducting personal QS projects that are about: what did they do? how did they do it? and what have they learned?  In Toolmaker Talks we hear from those closely observing all this QS activity and developing appropriate tools: what needs have they observed? what tools have they developed in response? and what have they learned from users’ experiences?

Studying sleep — the impact of sleep on health, and of various activities on sleep — is a popular topic for many self-trackers. People have videotaped themselves sleeping; spent time in sleep labs; kept sleep diaries; and used a variety of gadgets to measure brainwaves and motion. BAM Labs offers yet another approach.

Founder Rich Rifredi explains what led to its creation and the impact it has had.

Q: How do you describe BAM Labs? What is it?

Rifredi: BAM Labs turns any bed into a smart bed to help people manage their health and the health of those in their care.  Our Touch-free Life Care (TLC) system is completely non intrusive and features an under the mattress biometric sensor that collects heart rate, breathing rate, motion and bed presence without attaching anything to your body.   Our cloud services take these health data and turn them into applications for senior care, sleep analysis and overall wellness tracking. Our system works for single beds as well as Queen and King size beds with two sleepers.

Q: What’s the back story? What led to it?

Rifredi: In 2001 my son was born 12 weeks premature and came home with an infant apnea monitor.  The monitor had three wires that were attached to him to monitor his breathing.   The device constantly false alarmed as the wires lost contact.   After 4 weeks of dealing with meaningless alarms, we gave up on the monitor and slept in 4-hour shifts with one of us just watching our son to make sure everything was OK.   I approached my friend Steve Young , who had designed some of the original Apple PowerBooks as well as Cepheid’s Smart Cycler for rapid DNA analysis, and challenged him to come up with a way to monitor someone’s health without the wires and with enough accuracy to be meaningful.

In 2006, Steve and I started working full time on solving this problem and went through several design iterations, but finally came up with a design that was completely non intrusive, easy to set-up and maintain, accurate and affordable.  Our original market case was to help parents monitor their children.  However, as we started talking to potential users, it was clear everyone could benefit from monitoring their health and enabling others to participate in the care continuum.  We shifted our focus to providing tools to help caregivers.  Whether the caregiver is a mother of an infant child, a person helping take care of their elderly parent or a professional caregiver in a senior housing community.

Q: What impact has it had? What have you heard from users?

Rifredi: We have had a real impact on the quality of life for seniors living in senior care communities and improved the quality of care they receive.  We have had more than one caregiver document that they have reduced falls and pressure sores for people being monitored with our system. Caregivers receive notification when someone gets out of bed, so the caregiver can provide assistance and reduce falls.  The system also provides alerts to caregivers when a resident, who is at risk for a pressure sore, has not moved for more than two hours. While that may not sound too exciting, a fall or pressure sore for an elderly person can be life threatening (Christopher Reeves died of complications from a pressure sore) and in most cases results in significant co-morbidity issues.

Other people use the system to track wellness through sleep quality.  It has become a tool to help them objectively quantify the impact of diet, exercise and stress on their sleep and health.  For example, we track your heart rate over the night, and in the morning you can get immediate feedback on how alcohol impacts your heart rate.  People are amazed to see how a couple glasses of wine can make their resting heart rate jump by 10-20% or more and how their sleep quality declined—even when they feel like they had a good night sleep.

Q: What makes it different, sets it apart?

Rifredi: Our secret sauce is in the design of the system—making it completely touch-free and simple to use. There are no straps, headbands, or patches to wear, and you don’t have to remember to turn anything on. Also, your personal health data is continuously and automatically sent your secure web account so that you can build a health profile every night without have to do anything.  You can then access the information from anywhere on any Internet device.

Finally, our clinical studies show that while we provide a superior user experience by removing the need to attach anything to your body, our system is highly accurate for medical applications.  The system is registered as an FDA class I device and we will seek a 510(K) Class II certification in 2012.

Q: What are you doing next? How do you see BAM Labs evolving?

Rifredi: Today we are focused on helping caregivers and seniors in senior residential communities manage their health.  Over time we will develop fitness and wellness applications, which will integrate more sensors into our platform.  Our vision is to turn every bed into a smart bed, so that we can all take more control over managing our health.

Q: Anything else you’d like to say?

Rifredi: Someday our kids are going to say, “you slept in a bed for 1/3 of you life and it didn’t tell you anything about your health?  And you called that the information age?”   While Internet enabling beds with biometric sensors may seem odd today, at BAM, we firmly believe that smart beds are going to be as pervasive as smart phones.

Product: Touch-free Life Care (TLC) system
Platform: web
Price: Consumer pricing to be announced.

(If you are a “toolmaker” and want to participate in this series, contact Rajiv Mehta at 

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