After closing a $9.7 million round this summer, Finnish startup Valkee — which makes a light-emitting pair of earbuds designed to counteract seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — has put some of that cash towards a product refresh. The second generation of its product, Valkee 2, has been given a sleeker look and a variety of user-friendly tweaks.
The makers of the device, which Valkee’s co-founder Juuso Nissillä describes as a “medical iPod”, claim to draw on scientific research that suggests bright light stimulates brain activity to counteract SAD. The LED earbuds are designed to leverage that effect by allowing users to give themselves a daily dose of light directly into their ear canals — where the photosensitive areas of the human brain can be exposed to it.
The main change with Valkee 2 is remodelled LED earbuds, aiming for a more ergonomic, in-ear fit. There’s also a new smaller, all-aluminium casing (that looks very 2nd generation iPod nano-ish) from which the micro USB headphone cord can now be detached so that multiple users (i.e. who each have their own LEDSet) can share a single Valkee 2.
The product’s interface has also been updated to add on-device control — rather than having to change settings via Valkee’s website or a PC. Other tweaks include a longer headphone cord and internal memory in the earbuds so that settings can be retained when the headset is unplugged from the control unit.
Valkee launched its first commercial prototype in Finland in winter 2010, using off-the-shelf products. A global version, made from proprietary plastic parts, followed in winter 2011. That version retailed for €185. The startup said today it has shipped 45,000 of its bright light headsets to more than 20 countries around the world over the past three years. Satisfaction rates are apparently very high: 87% of users would recommend the product to others, it claims.
The Valkee 2 is available for pre-order — costing €199, in a choice of either black or silver — from the company’s website. It’s due to ship next month.
Update: Valkee has provided TechCrunch with the following statement in response to criticism that its product does not work as claimed:
We have come across at Valkee this same weblink to a site that publishes anonymous and misleading information about Valkee. I can only second-guess the motives of the author. Similar false accusations have come up every now and then.
To keep the record straight: Valkee has been tested clinically for both treatment efficacy and user safety according to the requirements of the EU Medical Device Directive (93/42/EEC) and is consequently an approved European medical device in Class 2a for treating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD, Winter blues) and its many symptoms, and is CE-marked for that. Many other additional health benefits of bright light are being studied currently, by Valkee and by others, including health technology majors. All clinical studies of Valkee since mid-2012 have been double-blind, placebo controlled, even if not all have been published to protect new IPR, nor is there any requirement to publish all.
A required 3rd party clinical evaluation with full access to all research in connection with Valkee 2 product program reaffirmed that the product is clinically sound, and that the marketing claim of treating SAD is well founded.
We will not start correcting every single false accusation of anonymous sources such as the website in question, but instead focus on continued work in bright light research, and on serving our satisfied customers to the best we can.