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Philips launches into total sleep care at new Pittsburgh Innovation Center

Aaron Aupperlee
| Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, 5:24 p.m.

Philips is looking at 2.3 billion nights worth of sleep data in an effort to help its customers sleep better.

The company has bulked up on software engineers and is seeking to work with artificial intelligence researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, company officials told the Tribune-Review.

This is happening as the global electronic device giant is broadening its approach to restful nights from treating sleep and respiratory disorders to focusing on what the company calls total sleep.

“Sleep is a big domain,” said Bill Gaussa, head of advanced innovation for Philips Sleep and Respiratory Care.

Philips acquired the Murrysville-based sleep and respiratory technology company Respironics in 2008, launching the company into the field of sleep and respiratory care. Philips decided to make the business a larger priority within the past two years, said John Frank, CEO of Philips Sleep and Respiratory Care.

Frank gave the Tribune-Review a tour of the company's new center on Monday. Philips opened the center in October because it wanted a presence in Pittsburgh and to take advantage of the city's growth as a technology hub.

“What we have in Pittsburgh is fantastic,” Frank said.

Philips plans to move more marketing, design and development employees to Pittsburgh, Frank said. The company has already filled the fourth floor of Schenley Place to capacity with 125 employees. Frank said the company is looking for more space in Oakland, Downtown or other nearby neighborhoods.

Total sleep means continuing to improve Philips' line of continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, devices to help people with sleep apnea and machines that help people with respiratory complications such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma. It also means developing solutions for people who can't sleep, who don't feel rested when they wake up, who have trouble waking up or any other sleep condition.

Philips, drawing on its long history in light manufacturing, has a line of wake-up lights that not only help people wake up in the morning by mimicking natural light but also help people fall asleep with timed breathing exercises.

Frank said about 60 percent of the people working in respiratory and sleep research and development are software engineers, a huge shift from 10 years ago. Philips is also harnessing the data available from the more than 5 million consumers connected to its devices each night.

“We have the largest collection of sleep information from these patients,” Frank said. “From that information today, we've built an ecosystem so we can share that information.”

Frank said information is shared with physicians, care providers and now patients.

The Oakland location of the new Innovation Center puts Philips closer to the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, a move already fostering partnerships. Philips worked with Pitt's Innovation Institute to challenge researchers to come up with new ways to treat sleep disorders. The company recently picked three top ideas and will provide funding and work with those researchers to help bring their ideas to market, Gaussa said.

Philips intends to approach CMU soon to see about working with researchers in artificial intelligence to help its products learn and adapt to consumers, Gaussa said.

Philips also has met its neighbors at Schenley Place, including Pitt's Clinical and Translational Science Institute on the floor above them and the ultra-secretive Oculus and Facebook teams working on the first floor. Gaussa said some Philips employees have bumped into Facebook and Oculus employees at lunch and they chatted about the possibilities for virtual reality to improve sleep.

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