Still, this trend shows no signs of abating. In June, Google was awarded a patent for a crib embedded with sensors that “can be used to learn the behavior of the crib occupant” and “automatically act upon a detected condition in the crib or with the occupant,” according to patent documents. For older children, SleepNumber makes a bed that tracks a kid’s breathing, heart rate, and movement, and notifies parents when he gets up.
3 | Baby Mood Rings
A newborn is something of a black box. Figuring out what’s going on behind those infant eyes can be difficult, if not impossible—especially when the baby won’t stop crying at three in the morning. Naturally, some companies have developed technologies that promise to help parents do so.
Take the Cry Translator. Available as either a device or an app, it claims to determine within seconds whether a baby is crying due to hunger, sleepiness, stress, boredom, or discomfort. But while there have been valid scientific efforts to establish a correlation between the pitch and frequency of a baby’s cries and the source of his or her distress, that research involves significant guesswork and limitations. Among other problems, babies can’t actually confirm whether the adults got it right.
The growing field of “affective computing”—which aims to create systems and devices that can interpret human emotions—may yield more-promising tools. One early example is the Sproutling, a baby ankle bracelet that monitors temperature, noise, movement, heart rate, and other factors to determine when a sleeping baby is likely to wake up and also promises to alert parents if the baby is upset. (Never mind that babies already have an effective way to communicate that they’re upset: crying.) As the field develops, we may see more-fine-grained results. Researchers are developing sensors that gauge an infant’s physiological state, including stimulation, discomfort, and distress.
4 | Find My iChild
Once a child starts walking, parents confront a new set of worries—and a slew of new devices to address them. With Pocketfinder, a plastic disc that can be clipped to a T‑shirt or dropped in a backpack, parents can track their kid’s whereabouts on a smartphone app. For shorter-range child tracking, the Mommy I’m Here, a teddy-bear-shaped trinket that you can clip onto a kid’s shoe, will let out a 90-decibel alarm, as loud as a train whistle, when you press the locator button. Its range is 150 feet, so the idea is to press the button if you’ve suddenly become separated from your child in public. Two smart wristbands, the Filip and the GizmoPal 2, track children and allow them to call home.
Could we one day take this trend to its logical conclusion and implant microchips right into our children? Lots of people ask veterinarians to insert chips—essentially digital ID tags—between the shoulder blades of their cats and dogs. And implantable chips for humans already exist. In 2004, the FDA approved the VeriChip, a tiny RFID transponder just beneath the skin on a person’s right arm that could be used to call up her medical history. The device was discontinued six years later, after studies in animals indicated that such chips could cause cancer. But it’s possible that similar chips could make a comeback, this time with GPS capability, kind of like the Find My iPhone app, but for people. If, that is, we could eliminate the cancer risk and overcome the privacy concerns, both existential and pragmatic—including the possibility of hackers tracking kids. And unlike other gadgets, implanted microchips aren’t exactly easy to stop using as children grow up—which happens unimaginably fast, no matter how closely you track them.