The Baby Stroller of the Future Isn't a Stroller

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The baby transport of the future takes its cues from the past.

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Here is an all-too-common city scene: a mom, a baby, and a giant stroller, all three of them stuck at the bottom of a flight of subway stairs. The mother, on behalf of baby and giant stroller, asks strangers to help her lift her load up to daylight.

There are worse things in the world, sure -- and said strangers are, nicely, almost always happy to help -- but the scene is a reminder of how immobilizing strollers can be for the parents who rely on them for mobility. Particularly in cities, where stroller-pushers must contend with, among other things: stairs, doors, revolving doors, sidewalks with cracked cement, streets with potholes, and more stairs. The carriage can be as unwieldy as its cargo.

Which is to say: The stroller space is ripe for disruption.

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Enter the BuzzyBaby. A team of students from MIT and the Rhode Island School of Design collaborated to create the futuristic baby-moving device, which is not so much a stroller as a system of infant transport. The key innovation is a sling and a shoulder strap that attach to the baby, the stroller, and the parent -- so that the parent can sling the stroller on to carry it around while resting the kid on his or her hip. That's useful in particular for stairs -- but also for any situation in which it'd be more practical to carry, rather than push, a stroller. The sling snaps into and out of the shoulder frame via a removal pad that fits into most brands of lightweight strollers. As The Boston Globe notes, "the harness acts much like a universal remote control, providing one device to connect several."

That's nice for parents -- 77 percent of them, per one study -- who own more than one stroller. While the shoulder-sling framework isn't ideal for the mini-SUVs of the toddler transport world -- the Orbit Baby G2 Stroller Travel System is not terribly shoulder-slingable -- it could work well for smaller, slimmer models like the Maclaren Volo or the Chicco 6 Comfort Travel Stroller. For example.

The idea for the sling system emerged from an MIT product design and development course. Students studied footage of the wife and infant son of one of their team members, Kin Lo -- shots of the pair caught in that awkward stairs-in-the-subway-station moment in New York City. From there, the group imagined technologies that might make the mom's situation easier to navigate -- and considered everything from "a stroller that folded up like a clam" to stroller-friendly modifications within subway stations themselves. They settled, finally, on the back-to-the-future sling apparatus. 

The students presented the idea to their classmates in mid-May, and are now considering how to bring the idea to market. Does it make more sense to partner with a stroller manufacturer, or to sell BuzzyBaby as a stand-alone accessory kit? The team has filed for a preliminary patent; another monetization option would be simply to sell that patent to a manufacturer. Regardless, they hope the idea will be available to consumers by next spring -- which means that the age-old technologies of kid-carrying are about to get a little boost.

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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