For generations, people lived according to the sun. It rose, and so did we; it sank, and we slept.
Today artificial lighting in the office and at home wreak havoc with our circadian rhythms.
A startup called Biological Innovations and Optimization Systems LLC (BIOS) is using LED technology developed at NASA to make lighting for people, plants and animals that mimics sunlight. The company says the lighting can help align our innate biological time and our social time, or the schedules imposed by school, work and other activities.
Robert Soler, the company’s vice president of research, developed the technology while working at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“From a circadian standpoint, the (International) Space Station is a unique environment in that it sees the sun every 90 minutes,” he said. “Our biology isn’t made to see a sunrise every 90 minutes.”
Soler said the discovery in 2001 of a new photoreceptor in the human eye that sets the body’s circadian clock led researchers to look into targeting those cells with lighting to impact biological timing. He developed lighting technology to optimize astronauts’ sleeping patterns.
“The Space Station provided a cool opportunity to showcase that we could use particular spectrums of light to recreate a 24-hour cycle in an interior environment,” he said. “What we’re now realizing is that’s actually a really big problem for a lot of us because we spend so much time indoors and away from that ‘blue sky’ signal.”
Soler said this leads to “social jet lag” — the misalignment of our internal clock and social requirements that results in irregular sleeping patterns.
“We are really big clocks and we need something to synchronize to,” he said. “Light is our primary time cue that we evolved around, and now that we don’t have it our clocks are going haywire, and there are a lot of health consequences associated with it.”
Soler said BIOS is marketing its lighting technology for people, in businesses and health care and educational facilities; and for plants, in indoor farms and gardens. Large-scale cannabis operations are among its target customers on the plant side of the business.
On the people side, BIOS customers include Mayo Clinic and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Soler said research indicates patients at elder care facilities, who are prone to agitation around nighttime, and students, who tend to display night-owl tendencies, could benefit from lighting that aligns with their circadian rhythms.
The company, which also has offices in Melbourne, Florida, has seven local employees, including three recent hires: Kenneth Esterly as regional vice president of sales, Erica Voss as director of circadian design and Eric Schafer as senior embedded engineer.
BIOS is relocating its headquarters this year to Carlsbad.
CEO Sean Tegart said the company, founded in 2014, is being financed by a family office that has provided it with “all the funding required to build and grow a sustainable business.”
He wouldn’t disclose the amount of funding it has been provided, but said the money “has allowed us to invest heavily in research and development prior to our product commercialization.”
Its revenue is in the “millions of dollars,” and Tegart said he anticipates growing that by a multiple of two or three over each of the next three years.