Yves Béhar has tackled a range of design challenges over his career: bulky speakers, antiquated door locks, and laptops that are too expensive for developing countries, to name a few. His latest challenge? Babies. Specifically, screaming babies.

The startup Happiest Baby recently tapped Behar--who's perhaps best known for his work on the Jawbone Jambox and the $200 XO laptop--to design Snoo, a smart crib that detects a baby's crying and rocks to soothe him or her to sleep.

The idea for the crib came from pediatrician Harvey Karp, who wrote The Happiest Baby on the Block, a parenting book on how to calm a crying baby. Karp is the founder of Happiest Baby and the crib will be the company's first product.

The Snoo uses embedded microphones to hear a baby's wails, and then sways at a speed preset by the parent. The rocking only activates if the baby is strapped into a swaddling sack, which keeps the baby secured and safely lying on his or her back.

Another weapon to soothe those screaming infants: white noise. The crib, meant for newborns up to six months old, emits a whooshing sound meant to emulate what a baby hears within the womb.

"I can't imagine anything more terrifying than if all I'd known was loud noises, and suddenly my environment was complete silence," says Behar, whose firm Fuseproject designed the crib. "Everything that's designed for the baby is made to replicate the experience of being in the womb."

At first glance, the $1,160 Snoo looks like an ordinary, albeit nicely designed, crib. It's modern, with a mesh screen so parents can see in, a wood frame, and splayed metal legs.

Inside, though, are electronics including a motor, Wi-Fi chip, sensors, and speakers.

Designing a piece of technology meant for babies and purchased by adults is a delicate balance. Behar knew he wanted the crib to seamlessly fit into the aesthetic of parents' bedrooms. "We wanted to get away from the products you see that look like they're specifically for boys or girls, or have all the clichés, like little animals on them," he says. "I've never considered that stuff to be anything but a bunch of junk."

And, as a rule, Behar doesn't design anything that looks like a robot. "Most technology products look like technology products, and I personally think that's a mistake," he says. "The technology should disappear. It should look like something we want to live with."

As such, all of Snoo's technology is hidden, embedded underneath the crib and covered by a metal barrier, which Behar says has been tested and protects the baby from radiation.

Another detail that required extra care: To prevent any body part from getting pinched while the crib rocks back and forth, the crib's interior had to be designed without any space between the mattress and mesh walls. At the mattress's edges, the Fuseproject team used a stretchy, flexible material that connects the two and moves along with the mattress.

The crib also stops moving if a baby cries continuously for three minutes, on the assumption that the child likely needs something more than just rocking at that point.

Behar says the project is personal for him, which is part of why he agreed to take it on in the first place. A father of four young children, including one born this past May, he knows about the lack of sleep that comes with having an infant and the potential mental and physical health issues that can come with it. "It's a very serious issue for new parents," Behar says. "This isn't something that's just nice to have. It's a potentially life-changing endeavor."

Behar says this is something he would use--and already has. Working on the project meant there have been a few prototypes around the office, which he and some employees with newborns have tested out. "That's been a nice fringe benefit," he says.

Published on: Oct 18, 2016