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HolidayBuyer's Guide

No more rude awakenings?

Maybe it has something to do with the imminent arrival of Daylight Savings Time, but alarm clocks have been attracting the attention of industrial designers and even venture capitalists.

With one new timepiece that's still in the labs, you become part of the alarm clock itself. The SleepSmart device from Axon Sleep Research Laboratories requires that you wear a headband that monitors your brain waves to see whether you're in a light sleep--and thus, presumably, ready and raring to go--or in a deeper phase of sleep that can only hear the alarm as a very rude awakening. The monitoring is done by electrodes in the headband, which sends wireless signals to a base station parked next to your bedtime reading material. "By using SleepSmart, you will never wake up feeling tired again," promises the promotional material on Axon's Web site.

MIT's Clocky is an alarm
clock in shag. (Credit: MIT
Media Lab)

Axon, a Rhode Island start-up, incorporated in December 2003 and a year later closed its first round of venture funding, to the tune of $250,000. According to Monday's Boston Globe, the company is run entirely by college students and recent college grads. The board of directors includes Jeff Stibel, the general manager of Net holding company United Online, whose stable includes NetZero and Also on the board is the founder of a cutlery company, though there's no indication that any surgery is required to use SleepSmart. Testing of the product is expected to begin soon at a Rhode Island sleep clinic, and a product could be available next year priced at about $200, the Globe reported. Stibel describes Axon's founders as "really hard-working," according to the newspaper, but he apparently has another motivation: "I'm about to have my first child, so I desperately need this product."

Separately, about an hour's drive up I-95 from Axon, a researcher at MIT has concocted an alarm clock that dashes out of reach before you can hit the snooze button a second time. Gauri Nanda put wheels on the clock--known simply as Clocky--and designed it to roll across the room after a reluctant early-riser presses Snooze for another few minutes (or more) of shut-eye. A pelt of shag carpeting provides some camouflage, or perhaps protection against books or ashtrays thrown its way, and an internal processor directs Clocky to a new defensive position every day.

"In designing Clocky," writes Nanda, "I was in part inspired by kittens I've had that would bite my toes every morning. Clocky is less of an annoying device as it is a troublesome pet that you love anyway."

Just an academic research project at this point, the gadget is not commercially available. No word on whether there are plans to add teeth or claws.