Babies are unpredictable, messy and constantly changing. Sleep-deprived parents struggling to make sense of their tiny humans’ behaviors are starting to take a scientific approach, collecting data in the hopes of solving problems like not sleeping through the night.
Ankle monitors are typically associated with criminals on house arrest, but the latest gadget for this generation of tech-saturated parents mimics the shackles of old — in much friendlier colors.
Sproutling‘s baby ankle monitor tracks vitals such as heart rate and body temperature, and can tell if a baby is moving or in a dangerous face-down sleeping position. The environmental sensor picks up on the humidity, noise levels and temperature of the baby’s room. Best of all, it learns about each child’s behaviors over time and adjusts accordingly.
For example, it might deduce the optimal room temperature for sleeping based on a child’s nap patterns and point out that lowering the temperature two degrees will help the baby sleep 20 minutes longer. Or if it senses elevated noise levels, it could warn parents that their child is going to wake up unless it’s quieter.
But are there are concerns about introducing yet another gadget into parenting. Children are already glued to their iPads, parents to their smartphones. Instead of relying on first-person observations or their own instincts, parents could use devices as a crutch. The promise of solving problems with enough data can also be misleading. For some babies, all the quantifying in the world won’t make them sleep better.
Knowing too much about an infant’s status and vitals could put a naturally anxious parent at ease. Or having more information could inflame worries. Instead of sneaking in to make sure a baby is breathing, a father might spend the evening staring uneasily at an app, or compare his kid’s measurements and behaviors to other children and wonder if it’s normal.
To avoid overwhelming parents, Sproutling isn’t handing over raw data about individual children.
“That detailed information in the hands of a parent without any context will actually create fear and anxiety,” said Sproutling CEO Chris Bruce. “On its own, data really is meaningless to people until they have the means to understand it.”
While not ideal, physically attaching a device to a child is currently most efficent way to collect data. Sproutling’s adjustable ankle bracelet is made from a soft fabric (which is machine washable), and the sensor, which charges wirelessly, is medical-grade silicon. The white charging dish doubles as the environmental sensor, and the mobile app serves up advice and warnings. Parents can pre-order the kit for $250 now and it will ship in March 2015.
It’s not the first wearable baby monitor on the market. Mimo makes a $200 onesie with a detachable monitor that also tracks heart rate, skin temperature, movement and sleeping positions. Owlet is another baby wearable still in production that straps to the ankle and sends text alerts.
Sproutling sets itself apart by returning insights instead of just data, and by looping in information about the surrounding environment like light and noise levels. It also uses machine learning to give tips, insight and advice based on data collected from a specific child.
The team behind Sproutling has a lot of experience with design and integrating data with people’s everyday lives. The company’s early employees come from medical companies, Apple, Google and General Electric. Sproutling received $2.5 million in venture capital funding in 2013.
Bruce is confident Sproutling’s baby monitor will stand out when it’s released. (He even tested the product on his kids). The company already has four more products in the pipeline to cover older kids and the rest of the family. Even so, he knows attaching a device to a baby isn’t going to appeal to all parents.
“It’s not for everybody. I think there’s a lot of parents who will never put technology on their kids.”