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May 10: "Reverse Alarm Clock" Keeps Young Children Sleeping


Eric Sloss

Carnegie Mellon Professor Creates "Reverse
Alarm Clock" That Keeps Young Children Sleeping

PITTSBURGH—John Zimmerman, an associate professor in Carnegie Mellon University's School of Design and Human-Computer Interaction Institute, has developed an unconventional alarm clock every new parent needs — a clock to keep their children sleeping. Called the Reverse Alarm Clock, the product aims to keep young children from interrupting their parents' sleep.     

Reverse Alarm Clock"We saw this as a perfect starting point for our project. We felt that if we could keep young children from waking their parents, then adults would have more emotional reserve to deal with the morning pressure and, in turn, feel like better parents," Zimmerman said.     

Lack of sleep adversely affects adults' moods and has remained a serious problem without a definitive solution. In response, Zimmerman's team has created the Reverse Alarm Clock that consists of a moonset and sunrise calculator, a small circular wall-mounted unit that is set by the parents. A "Treasure Chest Music Selector" is also incorporated in the clock, allowing children to select bedtime and wakeup music, furthering the emphasis on responsibility and routine.

The moonset and sunrise calculator controls a "sky display," illustrating time in a way that young children can understand by using images of the sun, moon and stars. When the moon is lit, the children should stay in bed; when the moon is off, the children can get out of bed if they wish but not disturb their parents, if possible. Finally, when only the sun is on — and the wakeup music plays — they must get up and start the day.     

Many parents with young families experience distress during the morning rush when they have to wake, dress and feed themselves and their children, and collect all of the needed belongings for the day, while attempting to leave their homes on time.     

The team conducted various studies to conclude the need for such a product. In one lab study, they worked with six parents from dual-income families to assess how well the clock integrated into children's bedtime and wakeup routines. During the evaluation they confirmed that children getting out of bed at night were a problem and that most families wanted to test the product in their homes to see if it would help.    

Zimmerman says that instead of taking technology and looking for problems it can solve, the team looked at problems and applied the technology to improve the quality of people's experiences.