The creative minds at a company called 4moms want to make life better for their customers. Using the skills they acquired at Carnegie Mellon University, they've designed their latest product — the mamaRoo — to soothe and entertain babies just like Mom.
"The mamaRoo was actually inspired by the observation that parents bounce and sway when soothing their kids," said alumna Mary Koes (E'02, CS'02,'04). "It's the only seat on the market that moves up and down and side to side."
Koes joined the company following the birth of her first son in 2006, so that she could apply robotic technology and controls to make the world's first power-folding stroller. Since then, she's been involved in a number of additional projects and is now in charge of operations at 4moms.
For this new product, Koes explained that they put accelerometers on parents as they were holding their babies and captured their motions. They used the results to develop the five motions of the mamaRoo: car ride, kangaroo, tree swing, rock-a-bye and ocean wave.
Koes developed the software algorithms for synching the horizontal and vertical axes to create the different motions. Lead engineer on the project was Fred Hopke (E'01). Two more alums, Henry Thorne (E'82,'84,TPR'00) and John Walker (E'06), were also involved in creating the product.
"I think we all have the desire in us to make something better than what's out there, to invent the better mousetrap. It's a very American trait," said Thorne, who is chief technology officer of 4moms.
"At Carnegie Mellon, we developed skills that enable us to fulfill that desire, the tools to go out and truly make better products," Thorne said. "We learned mathematical structures that describe everything from the smallest known particles to the largest galaxies and how they all interact. At the Robotics Institute, we learned to visualize forces through structures and the motions of multi-linked systems as those forces ran their course."
As a result, they can quickly visualize a dozen different ways to make a stroller power-fold or make an infant swing rock a baby in a multitude of patterns.
"One hundred percent of our engineering team is from Carnegie Mellon University, and it's where we're recruiting for our expansion," Thorne said.
Koes loves that she can be both a mom and an engineer at the company, tackling challenging technical problems and then testing them out on her family. Thorne noted that plugging innovation into the commercial world is no small trick.
"A keen understanding of the customer and know-how about the world of business are critical. If you can put all of that together you've got something very powerful and you can participate in the great engine of the American economy, our technology industry," Thorne said.
Thorne's Tug robots are already out in the world through his last company, Aethon, and he's even more proud to have his new company's mamaRoo — and soon, Origami — products out leading in their markets.
Says Thorne, the 4moms tub and sleep trainer are just two more examples of how creativity, electronics and good engineering can make typical parenting activities like bathing a child and sleep training safer and simpler.
"In every case, it's because the products were a step ahead of their competition, and yes, it's the skills and tools taught at Carnegie Mellon that enabled us to create them," he said.