A baby's cries may no longer be a parent's first clue that something is wrong. Bluetooth and wireless equipped pacifiers, patches and bottles are lining up for the job.
The futuristic parenting aids will fit in mom and dad's pocket.
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Want to monitor the temperature of a sick child? Just fasten the TempTraq, a flexible patch that works as a digital thermometer.
'In the middle of the night, if your child's temperature is spiking, [TempTraq] can alert you to that' — Matt Ream, TempTraq's marekting vice-president
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.
"In the middle of the night, if your child's temperature is spiking, it can alert you to that," says Matt Ream, the company's vice-president of marketing.
Baby wearables showcased at CES
It's one of many new or improved baby wearable technologies showcased at this past week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
If a one-time use thermometer patch doesn't meet parents' needs, they can try the Pacif-i smart pacifier. The baby suckles on the pacifier's silicone teat and it graphs out the wee one's temperature on a parent's smartphone app. The app lets parents monitor the pacifier's location and sends an alert if their baby wanders past a pre-set distance — up to 20 metres away from their phone.
But it's not just a child's temperature and location that parents can keep tabs on.
The Baby Glgl (as in glug glug) brings smart technology to bottles. A smart holder slips over a baby bottle and monitors every feeding's timing, quantity and length. It'll also direct parents on how to hold the bottle to prevent the baby from swallowing air.
The mamaRoo infant seat lets parents control via smartphone the seat's movement, which is designed to mimic natural motions like a parent swaying a baby or bouncing on a knee.
The Grush, a Bluetooth-enabled toothbrush, encourages reluctant kids to brush their teeth by connecting brush strokes to games played with Android and iOS devices. Parents receive daily updates on their kids' oral hygiene.
Intel debuted a baby car seat clip that informs parents if their child is properly clipped in and what their baby's temperature is. It also warns busy parents if they've forgotten their infant in their vehicle.
'Parents worry about their children'
Such devices fill latent needs, says David Soberman, a marketing professor at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.
Latent needs are ones consumers can't express they have. Once a company creates a product to fill that unspoken void, it takes off.
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"People could never have described the iPod before it existed," Soberman says. Consumers loved the "revolutionary product" because there was a need for an easily rechargable, portable music device.
Companies have identified baby wearable devices as a potential opportunity to fill a latent need, building on the success of home monitoring systems and baby room monitors that can be accessed remotely.
"It's just going one step further," says Soberman. "Parents worry about their children.… If you give them a device which can help them understand the situation and potentially identify problems at a distance or be alerted even if you're not at a distance, this can sort of serve a need that addresses the fears and the concerns that a lot of parents have."
On the other hand, some of these devices may not be entirely useful, says Peyman Servati, a professor at the University of British Columbia's electrical and computer engineering department.
'I think once people start looking at these devices as a crutch as opposed to an assistance, then I think you can have a problem.' —David Soberman, U of T marketing professor
"I think the real helpfulness of some of these creations needs to be checked," he says, suggesting that while some offer cool data to track, they provide little real value for most people.
Soberman differentiates between helpful and "gimmicky" wearables.
For example, most parents are present when they feed their children. "You can actually see how fast your baby's drinking. You can see whether the bottle is empty," Soberman says.
Parents need to evaluate just how useful any of these products could be in their lives.
Not a 'substitute or baby sitter'
Despite these advances, technology's not yet at the stage of the robot maid on the Jetsons, and parents shouldn't depend too much on wearables to keep track of their brood.
"You have to do your due diligence," says Ream of TempTraq. While the app has some built-in safeguards, "it's not meant to be a substitute or a baby sitter."
TempTraq and other devices are meant to enhance a parent's ability to monitor a child and provide care, Soberman says.
He compares them to less technologically advanced parenting tools, like stair barrier gates.
"Now does that mean that if you don't watch your child — let the child swing on the thing — the thing won't become detached, and your child won't fall down the stairs?" he asks.
"I think once people start looking at these devices as a crutch as opposed to an assistance, then I think you can have a problem."
Still, despite their flaws, Servati believes in the future of wearable technology, especially its ability to help in medical settings — for patients of all ages.
"I think there's lots of potential for applications where wearable technology and wearable products can really change people's lives," says Servati. "We're going to see it in the future, for sure."