Health startups are hard work, and they often overpromise and underdeliver (like a certain blood-testing company). Hardware startups are also difficult to get right; just take a look at Nest.
A 50-person French startup called Rythm is a combination of both. Rythm’s flagship product, Dreem, is a $349 headset that uses vibrations that the company says can help people get the most out of their resting hours. And this week, the company announced an $11 million funding round and a deal with the French equivalent of DARPA to supply the headsets to the French military for evaluation.
The money is coming from prominent French doctor and entrepreneur Laurent Alexandre, billionaire Xavier Niel and a number of public grants.
Using skull vibrations to optimize sleep quality sounds a lot more “Star Trek” than Silicon Valley, but Rythm CEO Hugo Mercier says that all of the company’s work is grounded in hard science. Dreem isn’t meant to treat sleep-related diseases (like, say, sleep apnea), but it’s supposed to make your sleep deeper, which in turn makes you feel more well-rested.
But how do skull vibrations affect sleep patterns? Mercier says lab and hospital research shows that external stimuli affect how quickly and for how long people enter deep sleep. Research has long suggested that this phase of sleep helps people consolidate and retain memories. Dreem monitors brain activity, and in turn produces sounds that affect the sleep cycle at the right times.
Mercier says medical research shows that this is what’s most effective, as opposed to wrist-based vibrations or scanning that comes from devices like the Apple Watch or Jawbone fitness trackers. But he stressed in an interview that Dreem isn’t looking to become a medically approved device yet.
“Because we started in a lab and hospital, we’re interested in the idea of tackling disease,” Mercier said. “But that requires more work and more data. The idea was to start with a [consumer] product that will help most of us sleep better.”
A $349 price tag is a high bar for any consumer product (for comparison, the Apple Watch now starts at $300), and convincing people to buy what looks like a giant Fitbit for your head could be a tall order. But the bigger hurdle is that even though Rythm and Mercier swear by the science behind Dreem — pointing to a detailed white paper on their website — everyday consumers will likely be (rightfully!) skeptical of the benefits of vibration as a sleep aid.
For the time being, the French Armed Forces Biomedical Research Institute and a research team at Paris Descartes University will be using Dreem in clinical trials to evaluate its effect on people with “unconventional sleep routines,” according to a release.
You can watch a snazzy commercial below:
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.