Vigo is a wearable device in the form of a Bluetooth headset that uses infrared to look at your eyes in order to determine signs of drowsiness, and nudges you when you are dozing off. It does so in one of three ways: a flashing light, a pulsing vibration in the ear, or a sound/alarm or pump-up song. It also shows your alertness levels throughout the day to help you understand your drowsiness patterns better and help you manage your routine. The device also gives recommendations on how to improve, like when to take a coffee break or when you’re most productive.
“We envision the technology to be used in applications ranging from driving (such as people who go on long road trips or people who get drowsy while driving), to students who tend to get drowsy in class, to office professionals. We are also exploring B2B opportunities such as professional drivers (such as truck and taxi drivers), security guards, machinery operators and night shift workers,” says Vigo co-founder Jason Gui, who is from Shenzhen.
Vigo was born out of a senior capstone project while the team members were engineering students at the University of Pennsylvania. The team worked on it as their capstone project, and received extremely positive feedback from professors and fellow students who had experienced similar problems. This led the team to pursue Vigo full-time and turn it into a commercially available product.
“We were thinking about what are some of the problems that we experience that we wanted to tackle, and unintentional drowsiness was a huge problem for us as students – whether we were in class or studying at the library, we would often get drowsy when we didn’t want to be, and didn’t know how we could manage our schedules better. So we built Vigo,”shares Jason.
Jason studied mechanical engineering with a focus on mechatronics at Penn Engineering and business at the Wharton School, and looks at the electronics and technical side of things at Vigo. Drew Karabinos did mechanical engineering with a focus on product design, and at Vigo focuses on the design/user interaction as well as the overall vision and direction of the product. Jonathan Kern did mechanical engineering and economics, and focuses more on the business and operations side of things.
Moving to Shenzhen as part of HAXLR8R
The Vigo team moved to Shenzhen, China as part of the hardware accelerator HAXLR8R. HAXLR8R offers seed funding ($25,000), office space as well as mentorship along with the other opportunities for startups to take an idea to a product. The programme is based in Shenzhen in order to leverage the supply chain and factory ecosystem. They use a process they call ‘Interactive Manufacturing Process’ to ensure rapid development of manufacturable products.
“Shenzhen was amazing! We were part of the hardware accelerator HAXLR8R, a 4 month program in Shenzhen that put us right in the heart of the manufacturing capital of the world. We had access to an office space right in the midst of Huaqiangbei (华强北), the electronics market, equipment to build and rapid prototype, a wealth of mentors, networks and workshops to help us succeed, as well as tours and introductions to factories and the manufacturing scene. It was a very immersive program that really allowed us to understand manufacturing better so that we could better design our product to be ready for manufacturing,” adds Jason.
“We will definitely be utilizing China’s manufacturing resources now that we have built these relationships with suppliers and manufacturers and can utilize their expertise. Being in China was also fun – I’m personally from Shenzhen, China actually (I’m an international student who went to college in the US), while my two co-founders were in Asia for the first time, so it was a unique experience for me to introduce them to Chinese culture, including interesting food like chicken feet and duck tongues!”
Funding and Future Plans: “We’re seeking seed investors”
Right now the startup is raising funds on Kickstarter in order to go into production. They are also running a campaign on Demohour, a Chinese crowd-funding platform, so that people in China can support them. They decided to showcase their product on Demohour as people in China can only browse products on Kickstarter but are unable to support projects because of the lack of access and limitations to use of local credit cards/China Unionpay/Alipay.
The startup will be selling the device at $79.
“Kickstarter is essentially a way for us to gain some early adopters, because we are so new and the only device of its kind out there, so that we can obtain more feedback and improve the algorithm, to make Vigo even better and more suited to people’s needs and preferences. We are also planning on raising a seed round to expand the team and refine the product even further, as well as exploring B2B opportunities of customizing the device for their needs. Trucking/bus/taxi/logistics companies, security guard companies, medical professionals, mining or other heavy equipment industries – we’re looking into all of these sectors to see how we can tailor Vigo for their needs”, adds Jason.