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Circalux: Circadian-Friendly Lighting

Circadian-friendly, proximity-sensing night lights to help contribute to optimal sleep patterns for growth and development

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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

We spoke with a manager of a children's advocacy group called Head Start and discussed our idea with her. We touched on the decreased health literacy and education of poorer families, and how important it is to convey the importance of good sleep and our intervention in that field. We discussed how to plan out focus groups in the future as well. Currently, we are conducting a study of the lights in a Philadelphia hospital, where we have received fantastic feedback. From things to work on: longer battery life, getting the tags to more users; to enthusiasm: the light was bright enough to do all care tasks by but very pleasant, had improved sleep, 8.8/10 helpfulness on average. We are working hard to run our IRB-approved hospital trial with 20 patients, and hope that we will validate the effect on sleep with our lights (instead of turning on room lights or working in the dark), and that we can learn from our users and adapt that to parent and family users. We discussed the importance of focus groups with our mentor and we believe that this will be a critical component of our continuing product development. We look forward to testing the devices with parents and children from diverse backgrounds and sleep habits.

Name or Organization

Circalux Inc.


Philadelphia, PA, USA

What is your stage of development?

  • New Innovator, with less than one year of experience in ECD


  • For-profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

We believe our product will be a strong lighting solution for parents who need light at night to care for their kids and want them to have healthier and more consistent sleep. The use case ranges from parents caring for infants to children awakened by overnight care tasks in the hospital. We also envision families using these for kids of all ages walking around a dark house or on camping trips. With increasing awareness of the importance of sleep for growth and normal brain development, we believe that our device has the potential to help many families throughout the world.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Product: A new or enhanced physical product that creates value for end beneficiaries.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

Circalux aims to develop lighting products with the understanding that light pollution at night is the most disruptive stimulus to our circadian rhythm. Disruptive lighting is ubiquitous, especially in urban environments, and most people in today's society need light to complete tasks at night: from changing diapers to taking care of pediatric patients.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

We are attempting to solve the problem of sleep-disruptive lighting in the home, the nursery, and beyond by providing an alternative, automated nightlight that brightens automatically based on the user's distance from it. The carefully sourced LEDs provide warm white light that has minimal effect on sleep physiology.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

We've created a proximity sensing night light that uses circadian friendly LEDs (in other words, red-shifted) to allow care givers to operate without disrupting the sleep of those in their charge. When caregivers of young children enter the childrens' rooms, they usually work in the dark, by the dim light of a non-circadian-friendly nightlight, or by regular room lights. These options have light wavelengths that disrupt the body's natural melatonin cycle and circadian rhythm. Our product is based on the extensive findings of scientific publications on circadian physiology in humans, the effect of different wavelengths of light on that physiology, and the effect of night-time light pollution and disruption of sleep on overall health. When sleep deprived, the human body displays decreased immune response and an increased proclivity for conditions like obesity and diabetes. In turn, the body compensates for a lack of sleep by pumping out stress hormones that increase blood pressure and disturb normal brain functioning. Healthy sleep is also tremendously important for the growth and development of young children. Variations in blood flow and neuronal development during “Active” (Rapid Eye Movement or REM) sleep and “Non-active” (non-REM) sleep directly influence the development of specific brain structures. The first three months of life are essential for developing the circadian internal clock that governs healthy sleep-wake cycles. Sleep quality has been shown to impact Mental Developmental Index scores at six and ten months of age. Infants' sensitivity to day-night light stimulation is further corroborated in a 2004 study, which demonstrated that infants exposed to cycled lighting simulating day and night were more active than those exposed to continuous dim light. We are providing a light solution that automatically illuminates workspaces (diaper changing area, crib, etc.) when a user (parent) walks in a room, or by providing circadian-friendly lighting for kids to use at night (for reading, etc.). We are giving children an advantage in forming REM/non-REM sleep architecture and sleep schedules through healthier night-time lighting. Our lights are also sound-responsive, so that when a baby or young child cries, they turn on as a way to alert parents visually and to already illuminate the way. We have filed intellectual property and have developed fully functional and looks-like prototypes. We are planning on running focus groups for target users for consumer entry, and we are currently running a pilot program within a hospital. We are hoping to running a kickstarter campaign to provide an avenue for consumers to purchase circalights, and to fund our manufacturing (molds, logistics, etc.). We have been approached with many plans for uses: from artistic dancing (and lights brightening and dimming with distance) to child care. We are very excited to share our lights!

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

Beneficiaries of Circalights will be parents/family members and the children themselves. We hope that early light exposure to sleep-friendly lighting will help infants adapt to a healthy circadian rhythm quickly. We are also certain that circadian-friendly light automatically lighting the task areas for family will be not only convenient, but also less disruptive to family's sleep quality (falling back asleep, sleep architecture). In addition, light usage in pediatric hospitals will help the patients sleep, and improve the quality and satisfaction of everyone involved in the care (nursing, family, etc.) Interacting with our beneficiaries has been overwhelmingly positive: although we began with use case in adult hospitals, we received feedback about how useful the lights would be in the home. It has been an absolutely pleasure to pursue this avenue and interact with parents of young children or caregivers, and see how excited they are about the convenience and potential for better sleep!

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

Sleep disturbances are a very real problem for children, whose developing brains incur sleep debt more quickly. 10% of children aged 6 months to 3 years old have a sleep disorder, with almost a quarter (21%) of these kids continuing to have issues throughout life. Although technically difficult to measure improvement in any of these areas (sleep, activity, attention) as a result of lighting changes, we do believe that physiologically-driven lighting can have long-lasting outcomes. In addition, it has positive impact on users such as parents and family. We hope that this idea will prompt families to change their technology and lighting use in other aspects of life, in order to enforce day-night cycles. We are motivated by the increasing public awareness of disruptive lighting and increasing applications in consumer technology, and we believe that we can lead to wider systemic changes by creating a "circadian-friendly" movement or certification, where devices that gain this status are friendly to our naturally evolved day-night physiology.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

By opting for battery-powered lighting that respects our sleep physiology, we decrease costs of electricity for a family. One of the biggest struggles for low-income children is the support and infrastructure to allow for healthy sleep, so by providing lighting solutions that minimize sleep physiology disruption, we hope to improve their cognitive performance and development for the next school day.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (5000 characters)

This is an approach to nightlights that has not been taken for parents that are looking for something modern, flexible, and effective. We are strictly adherent to scientific practice and research to inform our design, and we are trying to make the features and functions of the lights as convenient as possible. A hospital scenario ("hospital-grade") is the ideal testing grounds, as the users (nursing, techs) have tight schedule and will not tolerate anything that adds unnecessary effort or inconvenience, and both they and patients will appreciate good results. We have had overwhelming positive feedback from our current study, and we are using this information as well as our consumer research to solidify our approach to crowdfunding to provide these lights to consumers. We are approaching the hospital quality improvement model within the consumer sphere.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

The largest consumer segment for Circalux, Inc. will be tech-savvy parents with young children who have already integrated circadian-friendly technology into their lives. f.lux is a free software package that shifts the color spectrum of device screens according to time of day or night, which has been downloaded over 25 million times since 2008. The infant wellness market generated over $35 billion in revenue last year, with a bevy of new smart lighting solutions. As parents become more educated and interested in all aspects of their young child’s health, there is a large growth area for evidence that prioritize and apply evidence-based medical and scientific understanding. Other consumers range from persons with nighttime urinary frequency to travelers and nature-lovers. We hope to use sustainable, local manufacturing processes to create our devices. We will begin with a crowdfunding campaign to fund the initial batch, but will move to web-based (amazon) and specialty store sales. We are excited about the UWB technology we use for distance-tracking within the lights, as this will allow future-proof scalability and the addition of features such as location services, smart home integration, and providing additional data to users (sleep, light disruptions, sound monitoring).

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

We began by testing a consumer segment and exploring market validity at a local children's hospital. We received overwhelming feedback on the usefulness of these devices in a home setting, especially from parents of young infants, and so we began developing our devices with a sound sensor as well-which would trigger the devices with the sound of a crying infant. We have developed our device so that they are fully functional looks-like prototypes, and are planning on releasing a kickstarter campaign to fund the manufacture of a large batch of devices. We are looking for the team infrastructure and some funding to help us ensure we have the best possible path to executing this approach.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (5000 characters)

We have not yet achieved market validation through sales, but we are confident that our business model can work in the market because of the increased awareness of light and sleep, and the importance of identifying areas for improvement in childhood development and growth. We are hopeful that our market surveys and our ongoing study can continue to inform us on the design of the device, so that it is the most convenient and successful in providing higher-quality sleep. We have received several requests for device pre-orders, and we are anticipating that a strong marketing strategy will yield a successful kickstarter and increased exposure.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (5000 characters)

One of our biggest priorities in developing this device is the need for human-centered design. We developed the user experience with nursing staff in mind: fast-moving, efficient, and prioritizing patient care tasks. After developing our first prototype, we surveyed individuals in a community of parents and the healthcare community to try and understand the features that are most valuable. We have been conducting a study of the devices within the hospital to understand the most important changes we need to address. We are planning on conducting focus groups dedicated to parents and children of different backgrounds and refining our device further after this next stage of prototyping.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

Lorenzo Albala (founder & CEO) founded Circalux after pitching the idea to a crowd of parents, physicians, and students during his medical school training. His training as a biomedical engineer and his exposure to hospital patient care drove his desire to #humanize our interaction with our man-made environment. He was inspired by one of his professors, Dr. George Brainard, who identified this lighting issue on the international space station and is developing lighting to solve it. He was also inspired by seeing his young cousins suffer from poor sleep and the attention problems that this caused. Lorenzo and his team took his initial consumer and market exploration to a hospital just outside of Philadelphia, Nemours Dupont Children's Hospital, where they surveyed nurses, parents of patients, and patients themselves to understand the impact of repetitive harsh fluorescent lighting on their lives--not just in the hospital but at home as well. The team is excited about working in the early childhood space because the development that happens therein is so crucial for the foundation of a healthy life, and any advantage-especially one that is easy and affordable-is a boon for children and their families. Lorenzo has worked as a student pediatrician (inpatient, outpatient, neonatal care), taught english and math to pre-schoolers, coached older kids in athletics, and continues to pursue early child care in his practice as a budding physician.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

Our biggest need at this stage is locating individuals to help form the foundational team that Circalux needs to succeed. The founders are transitioning into their residency training and will need more involvement from an individual with business and marketing experience.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

We would be really excited to bring on individuals excited by our product and its possible applications that are skilled in marketing, software development, and sales. We would be more than willing to take on new members for the leadership team, especially anybody who is passionate about this idea who has prior entrepreneurial/startup experience. Of course, to help build the team we would need a round of funding.

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

We would need support in developing consumer focus groups, and in developing a team with wide breadth of individuals.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

Lorenzo is passionate about #humanizing the modern lifestyle. He is an ardent believer in work-life-exercise balance and the mindful utilization of technology to improve quality and efficiency. From his career in medicine to his outside interests - family, rowing, kitesurfing, yoga - he embraces design-thinking and innovation to ensure growth and embrace happiness.

[Optional] Attachments: Please upload relevant attachments or graphics or show us how you prototyped.

Mentorship: How was your idea supported? (5000 characters)

We spoke with a manager of the Head Start group, where we obtained great feedback and advice on the next steps. We really appreciated discussing the importance of education and literacy in different socioeconomic classes, and are giving this much greater consideration. We believe the most important component of development will be running focus groups dedicated to our target populations (children, parents) after finishing this next round of prototyping. We were not able to get in touch with our mentor for follow-up, but hope to continue working with her in the future as we thrive on helpful feedback.

Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

Our approach to execution has changed slightly. We hope to utilize funds and financial support to run effective focus groups as soon as we finish upgrading the device with the feedback we have been receiving. This will greatly inform our marketing approach. In our hospital study, we have been learning a great deal about our device: for instance, we need to upgrade the battery capacity of the device as well as the look and usage of the tag that triggers the devices. We are incredibly excited to work on this next level of circalux prototype and get some kids and parents together to test them out.

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Carlton Chen

Hi, Lorenzo. I think yours, ours and two others are the only ones of the 568 Open Submissions that deal with sleep. Ours is the Sammi Early Childhood Sleep Literacy Project and we plan to conduct research with AI and sensors to aid us in developing a sleeping and napping pillow for children one year, or even 6 months, to 3 years of age and kickoff an education program to make parents and childcare providers aware of the critical value of sleep for young children. Perhaps we can collaborate on the education piece. Kind regards, Carlton