The Kickbee, invented by an expectant couple, can get your baby "tweeting" before they're even born!
Like any excited expectant father, Corey Menscher wanted to experience the kicks of his unborn child. Because of that, he invented something called the Kickbee, a device that when strapped onto a pregnant mama's belly, transmits messages to Twitter every time the little one kicks. Momlogic spoke with the Internet entrepreneur and his wife, Ellen, about this extreme form of social networking.
Momlogic: Corey, how and when did you come up with the idea of twittering from the womb?
Corey: Ellen was pregnant during my fall semester. She was getting bigger and bigger. At the time, I was in school and she was working. She'd call me and tell me about when the baby was active or kicking, but I wasn't there physically to share it with her. When the kicks started to get strong, I wanted to know when he was being the most active. So, I combined what we were studying in the course with my love for Twitter.
ML: Corey, when did you start twittering in general?
Corey: I started in March 2008. I used it mostly because I had a core group of friends who used it, fellow students at NYU. We started using it a lot for group communication; as it took off, I followed and was followed by a lot of people. The "Kickbee" was a final project for a class where we applied digital technology to the rest of our bodies. The assignment was to use sensors to interact with biometric data about our bodies and to observe our behaviors online. We wanted to interface with computers beyond the mouse and keyboard.
ML: For those who have never heard of you or this, please explain how it worked.
Corey: I thought of making two devices, one for the mother to wear, which would sense the kicks/vibrations. It attached to her belly and had really tiny sensors, almost like microphone vibration sensors, which were connected to a small computer on the stand or table beside her. The microcontroller spoke to the computer, which updated Twitter. The other device was for the dad to wear, to alert him when the baby was kicking. I realized I didn't have to create a second vibrating device because everyone already carries one -- a cell phone. So instead, I connected it to my cell, so it would send a text message every time there was activity. Twitter has something called "application programming interface," or API, and this is a way for developers to interact with the service by sending and receiving text messages to and from Twitter. I used API to simply send a message, which would update our Twitter Kickbee account by saying, "I kicked Mommy at 10:12 AM" (or whatever time it was happening).
ML: Who followed you? And what was their reaction?
Ellen: At first, it was a private Twitter account, in that you can make it private where people have to ask permission to follow you. Originally, it was Corey and close family, but for the show where Corey presented his invention, we opened it up to the public and that's when everything caught on. We had about 600 followers at one point.
Corey: At the end of the semester, there was an expo with student projects. The projects were showcased and presented to the public. Hundreds of people came to the floor over a few days and saw the Kickbee.
ML: How often did you tweet from the womb? How often would it update itself?
Corey: The Kickbee I created was a prototype, so Ellen couldn't just sit and put it on. I had to help her set it up. You have to be about 7 or 8 months pregnant for the device to detect a kick, so we tested it in mid-December and Ellen gave birth in January, so we only used it for a few months. Ellen only used it when we were apart. It was a way to stay connected to Ellen and our baby while she was at work and I was at school. After December, I was on winter break and she was on maternity leave, so we were together. It was a fun way to interact and record how active the baby was. I could get a text message on my cell phone anywhere and anytime regarding the activity of our baby.
ML: How did the media find out about your concept?
Corey: At first, it was blogged about online. From there, it grew organically. It was discussed on mother technology sites, general interest sites, and so forth.
ML: Ellen, as an expecting mother, what did it mean to you to be able to do this?
Ellen: I felt so much closer to Corey. He was trying to be closer to me and understand what I was going through, and he wanted to be closer to our baby. This made us better friends.
ML: Corey, as an expecting father, what did it mean to you to be able to do this?
Corey: It was obviously amazing. To me, the focus was always on my relationship with Ellen. I wanted to be involved with the pregnancy and what was going on inside her body. It wasn't about me communicating with the baby, but me communicating with Ellen about what was happening with the baby. It furthered the communication we had in getting ready to be new parents. The baby was so active, and it was exciting. I thought, "This is really happening, it's coming soon." The Kickbee has a lot of benefits.
ML: When and why did you decide to share your invention with others?
Corey: I designed it for Ellen, but when it started getting a lot of attention, I got a number of messages from people all over the world who really loved it. I heard from people who have lost pregnancies in the past and they wanted to use it as a way to monitor the activity of the baby. This way, even their doctor could be aware of the activity. It's not an actual medical device, but it prompted these moms who had one or more tragic events in losing their babies to get a handle on getting pregnant again, and using technology to help them by keeping them aware of their bodies and noticing whether activity is decreasing. It may prompt them to go to the doctor earlier, and get help if needed. Some people are also separated during pregnancy due to work. One guy wrote me saying he had to go to work overseas and he created a webcam system to be somewhat involved in his wife's pregnancy, but he wanted some connection and the Kickbee fit perfectly for him, and he wished he had it. Soldiers are deployed and also have trouble maintaining connections with their wives.
ML: Is it available to the public yet?
Corey: It's not currently available, but my main focus is to get it out soon.