Teens’ alarm app knows when to wake you, or let you sleep

Can you afford a couple more minutes in bed and still make it on time to work or school? SmartAlarm has the answer

Illustrative: American Hebrew Academy kids on a hike in Israel. (Courtesy)
Illustrative: American Hebrew Academy kids on a hike in Israel. (Courtesy)

Your next smart alarm clock could let you sleep until you really need to get up – or ensure that you get to where you need to go on time. The SmartAlarm, as the app under development is called, is the work of an Israeli teenager, with some help from his American high school buddies.

Zach Bamberger, a high school senior who has been studying at the American Hebrew Academy in Greensboro, North Carolina, was home to do an internship in Netanya during the summer between his junior and senior years of high school. On his way to work from Haifa one day, though, his bus got stuck in heavy traffic, and he got to work late.

It’s an old story, but Bamberger came up with a new twist. He realized that he could have made it on time if he had known his bus would be delayed – and thus was born the idea of the SmartAlarm, which checks weather conditions, traffic alerts, and other data and decides when you need to get out of bed in order to make it to work on time.

It’s about more than just getting up on time. A smart alarm has to be smart enough to know what your daily schedule and habits are and factor them into the algorithm. “Alarms today are based on the assumption that rare events are unlikely to happen in the future,” Bamberger writes in SmartAlarm’s business plan. “They follow a universal clock, but tend to disregard a person’s individual activity schedule. Current alarms are incapable of taking into account variable constraints such as flight delays, traffic jams, or severe weather.”

He writes, “If I need to catch an international flight that departs at 9 a.m., I would set my alarm for 6 a.m. in order to arrive at the airport at 7 a.m., taking into consideration typical traffic patterns,” Bamberger said, “But what if, at 4 a.m., a semi-trailer overturned on the highway on the way to the airport? My SmartAlarm could wake me up at 5:15 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. to make sure the accident did not prevent me from making my flight,” taking into account everything else that a person needs to take care of before heading out for the airport, he added.

The app, which Bamberger hopes will be ready early next year, is an international effort, centered on the American Hebrew Academy, which bills itself as the only international Jewish college prep boarding school in the world. He formed a team with three of his American Hebrew Academy classmates, Moe Katchen, Daniel Levitin, and Andrew Caldwell, along with Israeli Iddo Gino, the 16 year old CEO of RapidPay, who is currently studying in Haifa’s Reali School and the Technion. “It’s a true American-Israeli collaboration,” said Bamberger.

The American Hebrew Academy models itself after elite American college prep schools that try to educate kids for the high standards demanded by Ivy League and other top universities. In the tradition of other prep schools, the Academy has its own campus – 100 acres large – with top teachers from all over the world, advanced technology in classrooms, varsity sports, trips abroad (to Israel and other destinations), and a pluralistic approach to Judaism that seeks to encompass all religious and cultural points of view, according to school administrators.

SmartAlarm has impressed observers – and potential investors – on both sides of the Atlantic. For American Hebrew Academy Executive Director Glenn Drew, Bamberger’s app is a source of pride for the school. “The fact that students from schools in Israel and the United States are working jointly on a project while 10,000 miles apart is impressive,” he said. “It represents creativity, leadership, and ingenuity at the highest level.”

For Bamberger’s boss at PremiaSpine, the company where he interned, SmartAlarm could be an opportunity. “Israel is a hotbed for entrepreneurial activity.  The ‘can do’ culture of Israeli start-ups is contagious. Zach was probably inspired by his summer experience to take the leap and try to advance his time management application from an idea to reality,” he said – and that experience could turn into an app that will help many others get where they’re going on time.

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