A smart pillow with built-in LEDs and vibration motors that provides a comfortable wake up experience. 

Waking up in the morning could be a painful experience. Eos is a pillow that provides a comfortable wake-up experience with the use of light and vibration. With embedded LEDs, vibration motors, and a built-in clock system, Eos is the designed for people who care about sleep quality but having a hard time waking up in the morning.


Project type

Group project with James Pai and Kyle Freed

Project Aspects

Literature Review, Physical Prototyping, User Testing, Coding


                               The initial sketch of the idea (Sketched by James Pai.)

The Problem

The idea of Eos, which was named after the Greek goddess of Dawn, originated from our own wake-up experience. One of our teammate, James,  talked about the idea of building a smart pillow that could wake people up comfortably and without interfering others. After drafting a design proposal, we conducted research to understand how our body wakes up and how the light could affect our body. The research questions we focused on were:

  1. How do we provide a comfortable but efficient wake-up experience with a pillow?
  2. What interaction model is suitable for the pillow?
  3. How can we reduce the use of external devices (e.g. smartphones, alarm clocks) during the sleep?


The Research

                                                    Responses we collected from our sleep survey

To understand more about how people sleep and wake-up, we conducted a sleep survey. From 23 responses we collected, we found that:

  • 16 participants prefer to sleep on their sides.
  • 19 participants prefer to wake up with their alarm
  • All participants sleep in an entirely dark room.
  • 13 participants will check the time with their smartphone when wake-up during the sleep.
  • Half of the participants said that they want to know the time, the other half are more interested in knowing how many hours could they sleep.

In the meantime, we also conducted a literature review of how lights could affect our body. Research had shown a benefit of using artificial dawn alarms to reduce “sleep inertia”, the period of grogginess following waking up. The Research further pointed out that blue light is likely to suppress the production of Melatonin which leads to phase shifting of our biological clock. Therefore, it will keep us awake. Red light, in the other hand, will not cause phase shifting effect of our circadian system which might be helpful during afternoon hours. 

The design direction was based on the findings. Since we now know that users are likely to sleep in a dark room, and they are likely to sleep on either side or facing down, we do not and should make the embedded LED too bright. And because we are trying to wake people up, the light from blue or white might be a good choice since it is close to the sunlight in the morning and could suppress the production of Melatonin.

Additional to the wake-up function, we further looked into what will people usually do during midnight. From a short interview view with several people and the survey, we found that it is often that people will check the time whenever they awake during midnight, and most of the people rely on their smartphone to check the time. However, since most of the display of the smartphone will emit an intense blue light, it is likely that only by looking at the smartphone will affect our sleep quality. Besides, some people also mentioned that their attention might be attracted by the messages or emails on the phone that they started to use the phone. To resolve this issue, we considered that it might be necessary to design a type of clock system to show current time to users without interrupting their sleep. Based on all this findings and assumptions, we moved forward to the prototyping phase. 



To demonstrate our design intention, we started building a minimum viable product, or MVP to test our concept. 

The prototyping started with creating a base plate for LEDs. To even the distribution of the light, we needed to attach LEDs on a plate, but in the meanwhile, we need to make the plate flexible to avoid break down while someone laying on top of it. I used the laser cutter to engrave flexible curvature pattern on the matboard to make it flexible. And based on the space and size required to put all the parts in, I sewed the pillow and put stuffing into it to make it comfortable to lie on as well as to diffuse the light of LEDs. 

In the meantime, we started to work on soldering the LED strips and vibration motors and connecting them to the Arduino. Initially, we programmed a bar of blue light sweeping across a red surface on the pillow as the alarm pattern, but after the testing, we realized that it would make users feel stressful which might not be an ideal solution. So we later reprogrammed it to turn the alarm pattern into gradually fade in from blue to orange to white, just like the pattern of the nature light. And when it hits the alarm time, it will begin to flash to try to wake people up.

For the clock system, From the survey, we knew that some people want to know the exact time yet others are only interested in knowing how much time left could they sleep, so I designed two visual representations to serve as both timer and clock. Since we had already known that blue light would affect our sleep,  yellow and red lights were used instead. 

To find out where should the clock be installed and how should it be activated, we did a quick user testing by asking people to lay their head on the pillow and try to imagine that if there is a clock, where do they expect it will be and what will be the most nature way to interact with it. After a few attempts, we learned that the edge of pillow should be the ideal location since there is less chance for people to trigger it by accident. For who to activate the clock, we found that the most intuitive way to control the clock is by pressing and holding the LED strip itself, which we attached a potential membrane sensor at the back of the LED strip.      


For people who sleep facing up or who is not sensitive to the light, we decided to add another mechanics to help wake people up. Five vibration motors were installed into the pillow to provide a haptic feeling. But to avoid causing discomfort, we carefully set the motors to be only activated when the user did not turn the pillow alarm off for a period of time. 

The last step was to determine away how to switch the alarm on and off. We did a brief ideation to come up with some ideas of how to make the interaction intuitive but in the same time to diminish the possibility of turning the pillow on or off by accident. The final idea was to add a tilt sensor into the pillow, so it can be turned on or off by flipping the pillow upside down. The decision was made because we considered that the people might be squeezing or hitting the pillow during sleep, but they are less likely to flip it around.

Although everything seemed gone pretty well, we soon realized that it was impossible to power 36 LEDs, the clock system, the tilt sensor, and five vibration motors with only one Arduino. To resolve this we redesigned the whole circuit and added another Arduino as well as to refine the infrastructure to reduce the use of wires. The two Arduinos were later being put into a cardboard box and placed into the pillow. 

                                                            The user trying the pillow in a dim room.

User Testing and demo

We invited users to try to lie their head on the pillow in a dim room, according to our survey, people tend to sleep on their sides, so we ask them first to try to lie on their sides, and then to try the pose they were used to.  We found that the light of the pillow was quite intense that most of the users said that no matter how they lie, they were able to feel the light even with their eye closed. Furthermore, the vibration was also strong enough to wake them up during sleep.

The pillow was later being demoed in an open-house event as well as participated in a maker space competition. The feedback we received were mostly positive, and people were showing interested in commercializing it. People were impressed by the wake-up experience it provides even when compare it to other products currently in the market.


Final Thoughts

Although we considered the design of the smart pillow a great success, and we were proud of what we had built within only 15 days, there were still issues waiting for us to solve. First, about the testing process, a diary study might be a better way to understand how pillow will be used and how effective it is, due to the power issue and most of the parts fragile, we were not able to conduct a diary study at this time. Secondly, users mentioned that people were usually very picky about the pillow, so instead of building a whole pillow, it might be better for use to modulize the whole system so it could be installed into any pillow they like. Furthermore, how to charge the pillow and where to put the battery also need to be discussed. A paired application or interface are also a must if we are going to move the project forward.

Overall, the smart pillow project provided us with an opportunity to learn about physical prototyping with fabrics and Arduino, how to design the interaction scheme, how to conduct a user study with the prototype, and how an idea or concept could be put in front of others in the form of MVP.