Next frontier for 'Internet of Things': Babies

A mamaRoo, by 4Moms
Source: 4Moms
A mamaRoo, by 4Moms

We use trackers to measure our daily footsteps, sleep, calories burned, UV ray intake, heart rate, stress levels—and that's just for us. Imagine if you had another human inside of you.

As the connected world spills over into every aspect of life, technology is making its way to babies and toddlers. New devices include Bluetooth and wireless-equipped pacifiers to bottles and connected onesies.

Some examples: A baby car seat clip from Intel that informs parents if their child is properly clipped in, or a smart pacifier (Pacif-i) that measures a baby's temperature while keeping them from crying.

"I've personally seen devices to potty train, track the baby's movements, and to monitor baby's heartbeat from just a webcam," said Shashi Jain, IoT Innovation Manager at Intel.

If firms get it right, the stakes for companies focusing on connected baby products could be huge. IDC, a market research firm, predicts that the global market for Internet of Things (IoT) devices and services will exceed $7 trillion by 2020, up from $1.9 trillion in 2013.

With that kind of money at stake, expect to see more products focused around enhanced safety and convenience for first-time parents.

A nursemaid, with wi-fi

Want to monitor the temperature of a sick child? Just fasten the TempTraq, a flexible patch that works as a digital thermometer. For 24 hours, the patch will send temperature updates to any smartphone—yours, grandma's or the babysitter's—connected to its accompanying app. If the child surpasses a pre-set fever level, the app will send an alert.

"Babies can't speak and so they can't say if they are too hot, too cold, hungry or choking. But sensors could," said Surj Patel, Thing Tuesday founder, an Internet of Things meetup, in Portland, Oregon.

If that doesn't meet parents' needs, they can try the Sproutling sensor-based anklet for babies. Out of the four million babies born every year in the U.S., 75 percent of their parents purchase a baby monitor or tracker, according to Sproutling. But this baby monitor is different.

At first glance, the Sproutling looks a little like a high-tech house-arrest anklet for babies, but it actually monitors their vital signs, tracks heartbeat, body temperature and the noise level in the room, while they sleep. Think of it like a Fitbit for babies.

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Over time, it also learns the baby's patterns and behaviors and can make predictions about when the infant will wake up, for instance, and whether they'll be fussy or happy when they do.

There's also the Owlet Baby Monitor, a small electronic device strapped to a sock at bedtime. The monitor silently checks a baby's oxygen, heart rate, sleep, temperature and rollover alerts and notifies parents of potential problems. The device is designed to give parents peace of mind and maybe even a full night's sleep, according to Kurt Workman, CEO of Owlet.

Also: The Baby Glgl bottle, named after the glug-glug sound of a feeding baby, is meant to help prevent gas or colic. Built with an inclinometer, the Baby Glgl tracks the weight and angle of the bottle and lights up with arrows informing the parent to adjust accordingly to ensure that the baby isn't gulping air.

For mothers-to-be

On the other end of the infant-to-parent spectrum is Bellabeat, the maker of a trio of health trackers for moms and moms-to-be.

"Any parent who has the means will buy things that help ensure the safety and well being of their child," said Patel.

The Leaf is one of three items in Bellabeat's lineup of health trackers for women, which also includes the Bellabeat Shell–a monitoring system for expecting moms–and the smart scale called the Bellabeat Balance.

The start-up's first batch of pre-orders have sold out, and those 10,000 sales generated $1.2 million in revenue, according to Sandro Mur, co-founder and CEO of BabyWatch, who has been building pregnancy and baby-related products for the past two years.


Reservations about the wired baby

Owlet baby monitor
Source: Owlet
Owlet baby monitor

While many of these gadgets appeal because they promise to take the guesswork out of parenting, it's unclear whether all consumers hot on the "smart everything" trend, and some of these devices may not be entirely useful.

In a survey by Nielsen's Affinnova group, just over 40 percent of U.S. adults said that the smart products they've seen so far seem like gimmicks, and 59 percent said they need real value to spend money on a smart product.

"Being a hot smart device doesn't mean that device is necessarily useful, it means that the device is delivering good experience and people are spreading the word about it," said Mur. "The real challenge is how to improve them over the time to make use of the awareness they're raising."

Unlike the fitness wearable space, the customer mindset is really different and the "experience is valued more than just data," said Mur. The challenge is "how to provide an experience while solving real problems and not maximizing them with overconcern."

Parents should be aware that data are only as good as the analysis—a fact that many scientists and skeptics across lots of disciplines are well aware of. A deluge of big data is useless on its own. Additionally, it's hard to know how well companies will transform their data into useful information.

"The biggest issue in the IoT for babies is that most people are just taking existing IoT devices and making them smaller," said Mur. He added that design is crucial. "It needs to be really simple and really warm. IoT devices should focus on only a few functions and do them really well, because there is no room for mistakes.