Who’s Watching the Baby?

Sometimes I joke that we’ve been talking about the Millennial generation for so long, they got old.

Old enough, at least, to start families.  And thus Millennials were a central focus at the Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association conference in California, where I spoke earlier this month. 

The JPMA represents companies that serve the prenatal to toddler phase of parenting–car seats, strollers, feeding, furniture and, increasingly, baby monitors.  And not just baby monitors, but really smart baby monitors.

The “Connected Nursery” was a big topic at the show.  Sleep trackers like the Mimo, integrated into little kimonos or body suits, now connect wirelessly with, for example, your Nest thermostat, so if baby is too warm, the nursery heat turns down.  Or your video monitor will notify you when baby starts to move. Smart scales track and record baby weight precisely. And smart diaper clips will let you know when baby needs changing.

There is even a smart sound machine that detects when baby is stirring and will play soothing natural sound, or lullabies, or project animations on the ceiling…and if all else fails, puts Mom on the line to have a two-way chat.  All, of course, controlled by a smartphone app.

Clearly it’s early days for these devices and physicians warn they’re no substitute for vigilant parents.  There is even suggestion that some of these devices should be approved by the FDA.  But as a trend, it’s inevitable.

And there’s more in store.  Besides watching and enjoying baby, of course, the other new  parent activity is worrying and asking for advice.  Already there are simple applications for Amazon’s voice-powered Alexa that will verbally answer a limited range of parenting advice questions. 

It’s not hard to imagine a future in which an artificial intelligence–like IBM’s Watson or Google’s DeepMind–can be loaded with an encyclopedic body of baby and childcare information.  Mom or Dad will be able to ask aloud, any time, day or night, their crucial questions: “Is this rash normal?”  And get an immediate, authoritative answer.

Or, that intelligent baby advisor in the cloud could monitor the smart scales and other monitors in the “Connected Nursery” so it can answer questions like “Is my baby’s weight normal today?”

The only question it probably can’t answer is whether your baby is the cutest baby ever.  For that, you still need grandparents.  

By Michael Rogers (The Practical Futurist)

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