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Now, the alarm clock that runs and hides--you'll never oversleep again

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For night owls who can't get out of bed, Clocky is here to help. The alarm clock, invented in 2005, will run away beeping if the owner just keeps hitting the snooze button. Clocky is engineered to withstand a two-foot daily jump from the nightstand. (Courtesy of Nanda Home)

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Many people have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. They could be tired because they're sleep-deprived, or they might be phase-delayed, meaning their body rhythms are out of synch with the rest of the early-bird world. (Julia Gronnevet/CNS)

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If the owner keeps hitting the snooze button, the alarm clock will roll off the night stand, wheel around the room, and sound the alarm once again. Gauri Nanda, 27, invented the clock while still a student at MIT. (Courtesy of Nanda Home)

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The escaping alarm clock is engineered to endure a daily 2-foot drop from the owner's night stand. Once on the floor, it will roll around until it finds a safe hiding spot before ringing again. Because of its built-in randomizer, the clock will find a new spot to hide every day. (Courtesy of Nanda Home)

Jason Bailey once slept past a 6 p.m. class. Greg Paciga would hit the snooze button for hours on end. They are not unusual--they're just late sleepers. And now there's an alarm clock that'll get even the groggiest of night owls out of bed in the morning.

"After the first few beeps I always hear a nice loud thump as it hits the ground running," wrote Paciga in an e-mail message.

The escaping alarm clock is here.

Clocky, as it's called, hit the market Feb. 13, and is the result of inventor Gauri Nanda's own battle with her circadian clock. The 27-year-old created the runaway alarm clock while she was a graduate student at MIT.

"As a designer, it was obvious that the alarm clock needed to be improved, both in functionality and in personality," Nanda said. She was studying at the MIT Media Lab, which focuses on the intersection of technology and design, when she invented the clock. Her other inventions include pneumatic clothing with a detachable part that, when placed on the floor, senses that it is no longer clothing and inflates to become seating. “My focus was wearable technology,” she said.

Her prototype Clocky was covered in brown shag carpeting and had big rubber wheels at either end of its body. When Nanda hit snooze, the clock would rev up, leap off the nightstand, land on the floor and roll around, its random wheel function moving the clock around until it found a suitable place to wedge itself--under a couch, for instance, or under the bed. There, the clock would crouch, waiting for snooze time to be up. Then it would ring again. The invention generated enormous media coverage.

"A lot of customers have been anxiously waiting for the launch because they heard about Clocky over a year ago when he was only a prototype and I was still a student," Nanda said by e-mail.

The interest in the clock led her to start her own company, Nanda Home, after graduating from MIT. Nanda and her few part-time employees have sold just under 3,000 Clockies so far, primarily by word-of-mouth. The current Clocky comes in white, aqua and mint, but Nanda is planning a shaggy version, too--in homage to the original prototype. Users have taken to posting YouTube videos of their Clockies waking up and running away, as if the alarm clock were a new, cute pet.

"A lot of people who purchase Clocky are parents who want one for their child," she said. The target demographic for the $49 clock is the 18 to 30 crowd.

But why is getting up in the morning so difficult that one might be driven to invent an escaping alarm clock, or to buy one?

"They're not lazy, they're just phase-delayed," Dr. Gregory Belenky said of the people the rest of us call night owls. Belenky is a research professor and the director of the Sleep and Performance Research Center at Washington State University in Spokane. By studying night owls' sleep patterns, a clear picture of normal, but delayed sleep rhythms emerges. "Adolescents have delayed sleep phases on average," Belenky said. In some people, the adolescent's delayed pattern persists into adulthood, and they stay forever phase-delayed and tired in the mornings.

But even for those who aren't sleep-deprived or phase-delayed, it's normal to be tired in the morning. For these people, chasing their alarm clocks around the room might be just the ticket to getting up and out the door. Leaving the bed and moving around will wake most people, and once awake, people with normal sleep patterns are ready to face the day. By contrast, phase-delayed people may wake up and move, but they'll be dazed and unproductive, Belenky said.

Some people who have normal sleep patterns still can't get up in the morning. They may simply not be getting enough sleep. One of the reasons for this could be that modern work hours were created when the average person lived close to work, Belenky said. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans spend an average of 24 minutes a day getting to work. That figure rises dramatically in large cities, with Chicagoans spending almost 33 minutes commuting and New Yorkers spending the most time of all--38 minutes. The time people spend commuting to work today used to be time they might spend with their families, with friends or just sleeping, Belenky said.

Bailey doesn't have a Clocky yet, but thinks he might try one if his current two alarm clocks stop working. "I think if you were chasing a crazy little robot around it might be harder (to stay in bed)," he said.

Paciga has been happy with his Clocky so far. "I always lie in bed for half a minute or so concentrating on the sound of the beeping while trying to figure out what direction it's coming from," Paciga wrote. "The trick is knowing where to look for it."

E-mail: jg2645@columbia.edu