Israeli startup babyark propelling car seat safety to new heights
Israeli startup babyark propelling car seat safety to new heights
Military-grade technology and advanced materials help form 'protective shield'
Exclusively for K-MAG
The seat base has 14 sensors and an LED light system that connects with an app to guide proper installation of the seat and provide safety alerts, if necessary. Copyright: babyark Inc.
Fourteen years ago, Shy Mindel, a technically adept aeronautical engineer, struggled in a parking lot for 25 minutes to install the car seats for his newborn twins. He figured that if he found this task difficult, then others must do so, as well – and that there must be a better way. The experience prompted him to peel back the exterior of his child safety seats to see how they were made and found them to be "mostly plastic and Styrofoam."
Shy Mindel spun babyark Inc. out of his previous startup, Mobius Protection Systems Ltd.. Copyright: babyark Inc.
At the time, the 30-year-old Mindel was designing tanks and armored vehicles for the Israeli military and he thought it would make sense to apply some of that technology to car seats to make them safer and easier to use. In 2009 he founded Mobius Protection Systems Ltd., which focused on designing blast-protected seating systems.
The firm also began leveraging its knowledge of advanced materials and high-tech shock-absorption systems to develop a better child safety seat. This led to the creation of a project within Mobius known as babyark. Three years ago, that was spun off into an independent firm called babyark Inc. that focused on refining the car seat technology.
Mindel and his team tried out a number of different design firms before finding one – Frank Stephenson Design in the UK – that really understood their mission. "We wanted it to not only be safe but also to look great," Mindel recounted in a June 8 phone interview from Israel.
This summer his babyark child safety system will finally hit the market – initially in Israel and the United States. Applying biomimicry principles (think egg shells and woodpeckers), the final product uses steel, carbon fiber embedded in a nylon 6 matrix, expanded polypropylene (EPP) foam, a shock-absorbing gel known as D30®, and a soft, specially woven polyester fabric.
Additionally, the seat leverages the Internet of Things to offer an app that provides instructions and warnings regarding the seat's proper assembly and installation. It will even alert the user if a child is left alone unattended in an empty vehicle (see video).
The end result, according to Mindel? "The world's safest car seat." Fast Company magazine said the seat "combines military-grade tech and Ferrari aesthetics."
Using high-tech, military-grade materials and "Ferrari aesthetics," the new babyark child safety seat sets a new standard in safety, Mindel says. Copyright: babyark Inc.
"While safety features for adults in vehicles have evolved dramatically over the past 10 years, child passenger safety technology has remained stagnant," Mindel said when showcasing his new product in January at the huge CES 2023 technology show in Las Vegas, where it won an Innovation Award in the Vehicle Tech & Advanced Mobility category.
The allusion to supercar aesthetics makes sense, given that Frank Stephenson, the design partner in the project, has worked for Ferrari, Maserati, BMW, Mini Cooper, Ford, Fiat, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, and McLaren. A Moroccan-born American automobile designer, Stephenson has been called "one of the most influential automotive designers of our time" by Motor Trend magazine.
Designed for newborns to 6-year-olds, the babyark safety system consists of three parts – a 25-pound seat, a 19-pound base and a mobile app. For children who weigh between 4 and 65 pounds, the seat is installed facing to the rear of the vehicle, which gives more support to the neck and back for youngsters whose neck muscles have not yet fully developed. For children who weigh between 26.5 and 65 pounds, the seat can be installed in a forward-facing position.
Regardless, the company's SmrtGide™ installation system ensures the seat is properly installed and all safety features fully optimized for every ride. The app that comes with babyark – which is designed to fit in more than 80 percent of all cars – guides users through a step-by-step installation. The product's ACTV8™ Smart Base is equipped with 14 sensors and a LED-light system provides visual confirmation that you've done everything just right. The app verifies that the seat is properly connected, every time, and even provides an alert should a child be left in the seat in an unattended vehicle.
The seat's primary frame is made of steel. babyark then attaches a super strong, very lightweight, carbon fiber "cocoon" to the frame, on either side of the head. This protective shield is seven times stronger than steel. Each carbon fiber sheet is just 1 mm thick and weighs only about 150 grams. The composite consists of 45 percent nylon 6 and 55 percent carbon fiber.
The app confirms the seat is properly installed and can even alert the user if a child is left unattended inside the vehicle. Copyright: babyark Inc.
babyark sources the material from Coats Group plc in Bristol, England, a specialist with knowledge of threads, yarns, zips and composites. They employ an embroidery-based, tow-steering process called Tailored Fiber Placement (TFP) that enables complete control over fiber placement and directionality in a composite preform. During the process, continuous tow is stitched to a backing material using numerical control. The pieces are then heated to expand the plastic in the mold. "It took us four years to develop the process," Mindel says.
babyark also uses what it calls SafeCoil™ technology, a steel tube that extends upon impact and absorbs the brunt of the force before it even reaches the seat and the baby, Mindel says they developed SafeCoil while at Mobius. The key to the technology is Mobius' patented, military-grade SPIRAL technology. Designed to mitigate high energy in unexpected, extreme impact scenarios, this part lowers the occupants' gravitational (or "g") forces to provide the protection required. A lightweight, single-element component, it is made from a steel specially produced for babyark and can be designed to fit any space.
Additionally, the seat employs what Mindel calls its BioArk™ side-impact protection system. This feature directs forces behind the body.
babyark's JoltFree™ headrest, meanwhile, uses a highly advanced, impact-absorbing polymer called D30® that acts as an active buffer upon impact, providing both protection and comfort. One pad of this expensive, gel-like substance is positioned on each side of the head. Made of a shear-thickening fluid – produced by the London-based firm also called D30 – it has been described as "an orange, squishy body armor" and is an example of a unique class of materials known as non-Newtonian fluids. D3O polymer – whose molecules are suspended in an oily, liquid lubricant, making it a colloid – is commonly used in the protective gear of top athletes, race drivers and even by frontline military personnel. It is a significant upgrade to the expanded polystyrene foam used in most headrests, according to Mindel.
Finally, the babyark seat uses soft-touch, specially woven polyester materials with no added chemicals, that are naturally flame resistant. "We must have tested at least 50 different types of fabrics before settling on this one," he said. The material chosen is soft, durable, machine washable and meets all necessary fire regulations. The fabric covers the baby seat’s cushion made of an EPP foam.
With an attractive, curved profile that purposely echoes the shape of an egg shell, the babyark seat offers a multilayer protection system unlike any currently on the market, Mindel says.
"We performed over 200 crash tests, testing an almost endless range of impact criteria," says Mindel. "Of these, the 16 crash tests required by regulation were certified by a world leader in independent safety testing." In one head-to-head test for HIC (head injury criteria), the babyark technology is said to have reduced the impact forces by 2.3 times versus that of a leading competitor.
The 20-employee babyark Inc. currently makes its seats at a factory in Shenzhen, China, and has its U.S. headquarters office in Coral Gables, Fla. Mindel says they are making "hundreds of seats" at the moment, ramping up slowly to ensure tight quality control. With some 40 million car seats (of all types) in use around the world – split fairly evenly between North America, Europe and the rest of the world – there looks to be a strong potential market for this type of product.
babyark is offering its safety seat at a pre-order price of $990 for a bit longer, Mindel said in mid-June, noting that afterwards it will rise to its full retail price of $1,190.