We talk a lot about tech on The Drill Down – gaming tech and smart home tech are the sort of thing we get into regularly. But what about smart mom tech?
Willow is breaking into the smart mom tech movement with their eponymous pump. Unlike most breast pumps, which attach suction cups to nipples and then extract the milk through tubes, the Willow Pump uses a different approach. Last year they showed off a prototype, but this year at CES 2018 they’re back after a beta, with a lot of knowledge, along with new pricing and availability.
Continue reading for more info and some videos.
First: each breast gets its own mini-pump, and each of those pumps is physically independent of one another. This means that they each have their own motor and don’t need to be tied together to share power.
Second: Willow has created a tubeless system, which means that the ungainly bits of pumping technology present in most pumps that force moms to mostly stay seated while milking are gone. Women can get up and move around with these devices with the pumping devices in position to start working.
The devices are quiet so once turned on, those around the mom don’t really have any inclination that the woman is extracting milk from her body.
All of this is in stark contrast to other leading electronic breast pumping systems. Take a quick look at what women have considered state of the art thus far. Below is an image of the app-connected Lansinoh breast pumping system.
It’s got vacuum tubes and cups. Cleaning it would involve a pipe-cleaner scrub. It’s completely unclear how you’d store this.
The Willow takes a completely different approach. As if the pump’s design wasn’t smart enough, the third innovation is that the device connects via Bluetooth LE to the mom’s smartphone in order to keep track of her output. The data updates in real-time as pumping happens and then is stored in-app, though we don’t know whether or not it’s available for export for trend analysis.
Speaking of data, it’d be interesting to see what Willow does with the anonymized pumping data. What’s the average woman’s pumping output? Is that tied to anything concrete like size or weight of the mom? Of the baby? Apps like the ones in the Lansinoh and Willow pumping systems might eventually provide insights that help medical professionals better understand how the body nourishes its young. The implications are fascinating.
Willow just exited its beta phase and now has production models available for purchase. While the beta seems to have gone well for the most part, we’ve yet to see any reviews about the Willow Pump, so we’ll have to do more research before being able to recommend it to geeky moms-to-be everywhere.
With that in mind, we did get a chance to see Willow’s production version of the pump in the wild here at CES 2018. While we’ve placed a product video below, there’s nothing like seeing such a complex system working in person to help you understand how truly groundbreaking Willow’s approach to the Technology is.
From a real world perspective, Willow does seem to solve a lot of problems. Mobile phone app aside, the design of the smart pump allows for something we’ve never seen in a pumping system before – true mobility. With Willow, a pumping woman could comfortably eat a meal or perform a task. In their research, which they shared via press release, Willow states that over 90% of moms said that Willow made it easy to produce milk in multiple places. 63% of those surveyed said that they were comfortable pumping outside of the house.
Still, we have questions. The vessel within the bag looks like it’s three or four ounces. After a full night’s sleep, a regular producer could pump significantly more than that, so whats an overproducer to do?
Charging also raises some questions. There are two independent devices and it seems that users can only charge one at a time. That means babysitting the device to make sure that both are charged, one after the other. Will the production version solve that issue? If not, can moms purchase a second charging unit? Moms will spend a premium to get the best for their baby and to make life more convenient. But fundamentals, like the charging up Willow’s high-end device will need to be very convenient.
At $480.00 USD per kit, that could cause a pain point for some would-be buyers.
Our last question has to do with Willow’s proprietary bagging system. The bags are pretty genius – they’re spill proof, recyclable, and fit snugly within the mechanical bits of the system; but each single use bag costs 50 cents, with a 24 pack costing $12. We’ll need to look into whether moms can purchase bags from Willow in bulk for a discount, and whether or not, with the advent of safe, sealable, biodegradable plastics, any options that are more eco-friendly are on the horizon.
Still, CES is where novel ideas show themselves off and often change the course of the entire industry they’re positioned in. Willow has definitely kick-started mobile pumping. We wouldn’t be surprised if their form factor, or something like it, was here to stay.
Release for the Willow Pump is planned for quarter two of 2018.