pillow talk

Little Riot is a Newcastle, UK-based startup that makes one of the more intriguing hardware products we’ve come across.

It’s called Pillow Talk, and it lets you hear your long-distance loved one’s heartbeat.

So, it’s like an iOS/Android-powered baby monitor for adults. Weird, right?

Here’s a video showing more about how it actually works:

In a word, you and your special someone each wear a wristband, which picks up your heartbeats. The wristbands then transmit that heartbeat to a speaker inside a pillow, via a smartphone app, so you can lay your head on the pillow and hear your lover’s actual heartbeat, in real time, from far away.

Little Riot founder Joanna Montgomery got the idea while working on a degree in interaction design at Dundee University in Scotland. Her project proved so popular that she started a company to turn it into a marketable product. It hasn’t always been easy, as she says, but she’s making her dream into a reality.

We interviewed Montgomery last week at SXSW Interactive to find out more about what makes her company work. She showed us a prototype and a 3-D printed mockup of what the finished product will look like (shown above).

“It just uses a light, and a sensor, and measures the change in density in your arm when your blood pulses,” Montgomery explained.

“I realized that existing methods of communication are very two-dimensional and they’re all screen-based… They all require active participation,” Montgomery said. “Whereas when you’re actually with someone, physically, you can come home and you can sit in the same room with someone and be connected to them but not have to actually engage with them.”

She’s a bit of an accidental entrepreneur. “It started as my university project, and then it got picked up by a technology blog, and quickly went viral on the Internet,” Montgomery said. “The reception’s been phenomenal.”

While she acknowledges the challenges of setting up a hardware startup straight out of university, she’s been helped by a very favorable climate for startups in the UK. According to the World Bank, it takes just 13 days to set up a business in the UK,  compared to the OECD average of 15 days.  In addition, the UK has the lowest barriers to entrepreneurship in the world and has the third least barriers to trade and investment in the world.

Montgomery also got help from UK Trade & Investment, which sponsored a number of events at SXSW aimed at highlighting UK-based companies and the investment opportunities in the UK, and which facilitated introductions “across the pond” for companies eager to expand their business globally.